Running, yelling and teasing may be strictly prohibited in the halls of Baraboo's West Kindergarten Center. But something far more serious is permitted because of a gap in state law: Firearms.
Lawmakers hope to close an alarming loophole in the state's gun-free school zone law that leaves certain kindergartens unprotected.
Baraboo School District officials discovered the problem as they reviewed their weapons policies in light of the new law that allows Wisconsinites to carry concealed guns.
The new law makes it illegal to carry a concealed weapon in and around schools. But an older law that generally prohibits people from knowingly possessing a firearm in or on school grounds includes a loophole when it comes to certain facilities.
"Under the current statutory definition of ‘school,' the students at West School would not be protected under the same laws granted to other students across the state," Baraboo School District Administrator Crystal Ritzenthaler said.
The state's gun-free school zones law defines a school as a public, parochial, private or tribal educational facility that serves grades 1 through 12 and is commonly known as an elementary, middle, junior high, senior high, or high school. The definition does not include kindergartens.
Kindergartens located within schools that also serve any grade from 1 through 12 are protected by the law, but "stand alone kindergartens" are not.
Ritzenthaler notified Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, of the legal glitch and requested that the Legislature revise the statute.
Clark said his staff has examined a list of Wisconsin schools and reached out to administrators to determine how many kindergartens may be unprotected under the current law. They have so far identified 16 facilities.
"And we're only about halfway through the list," Clark said, adding that the exclusion of kindergartens from the gun-free school zone law was likely unintentional.
The Baraboo lawmaker has worked with state Department of Justice staff to draft a bill that would close the loophole and he expects Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, to join him as a sponsor. The two lawmakers are hashing out details of the bill and hope to gather cosponsors early this week. The legislation also would apply to pre-kindergarten facilities.
"I think parents assume their children are going to school in an environment that is protected from guns," Clark said. "I don't know of anybody who thinks it makes sense to have first-, second- and third-graders protected, but not kindergartners."
The prohibition of guns on school property may seem like obvious public policy to some, but Peter Pochowski, executive director of the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association, says that may not be the case.
After learning of the loophole in the state's gun-free school zone law, Pochowski contacted 20 colleagues in states that permit the concealed carry of firearms.
"Every single one of them wrote back and said we don't know why you're worried about this," Pochowski said. "It's just not an issue. They couldn't give me a single horror story."
Nevertheless, Pochowski said his organization advises kindergartens that are excluded from the gun-free school zone law to put up signs to make sure they are protected.