Ohio Supreme Court to hear armed school staff training case

Published 2:08 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A school district that voted to allow employees to be armed after a deadly shooting is fighting a court ruling that says they must first provide police-level training to those employees.

Madison Local Schools in southwestern Ohio permitted the arming of its employees after a 2016 shooting in which two students were shot and wounded by a 14-year-old boy. A group of parents sued the district in September 2018 to prevent teachers from being armed without extensive training.

A Butler County judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that school staff did not need extensive training because they are not law enforcement officers. The district’s policy requires 24 hours of training for staff carrying concealed weapons.

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The parents appealed to the 12th District Court of Appeals, which ruled last March that Ohio law requires anyone who carries firearms in schools to have undergone a minimum of 728 hours of law enforcement training.

The Ohio Supreme Court scheduled arguments Tuesday morning for and against the district’s position.

Parents maintain the state appeals court made the correct decision, saying state law is clear that schools can’t hire employees who are armed who don’t go through police officer training.

The parents “are concerned about the tragic and fatal accidents that could befall their children when armed school staff have insufficient training and are carrying firearms all day, every day, in their children’s classrooms and on the playground,” attorneys for the parents said in an October court filing.

They note the parents aren’t anti-gun and, in fact, several are gun owners.

The district maintains current law doesn’t require the extensive training sought by the parents.

If the appeals court ruling is upheld, “no school district can exercise the right to arm its staff unless it turns teachers into police officers, or police officers into teachers,” lawyers for the district argued in a September filing. “This is both entirely impractical and demonstrably wrong as a matter of statutory construction.”

Lawmakers only require police training for officers and left training and qualifications for armed teachers up to local school boards, the district lawyers said.

The state Fraternal Order of Police, several gun training and safety experts, and other school districts including Cincinnati and Columbus — Ohio’s largest district — filed arguments in support of the parents’ position.

Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the state’s top law enforcement official, supports the district and will share time with district lawyers Tuesday in arguing before the court.

The law in question “does not apply to employees in non-security positions — like teachers, principals, or other non-security personnel — whose duties are primarily educational or administrative and who do not carry a weapon in their role,” Benjamin Flowers, the Ohio Solicitor General, wrote in a September filing on behalf of Yost.

On Monday, a Butler County judge ruled that the district’s decision to arm specific employees violated Ohio’s open meetings law because it used a “screening committee” that first identified staff members interested in carrying weapons at work.

But both the district and the parents suing over the training issue agreed the judge’s ruling doesn’t affect the issue before the state Supreme Court.