Arming teachers: Public packs Madison school board meeting to debate plan

Just a couple hundred feet from where a Madison Jr./Sr. High School student shot three classmates, dozens of school parents Friday evening argued — and pleaded — with district officials for and against their plan to arm school staffers.

The emotional school board meeting attracted more than 100 people — forcing the meeting to be moved to the high school gym — with dozens speaking to school board members about its plan to provide some teachers and staffers access to firearms.

The meeting also drew the attendance of a British TV film crew and representatives from a national gun-control organization.

The 1,500-student Butler County school district was last in the national spotlight in 2016 when an eighth-grader fired a handgun, wounding three classmates in the cafeteria adjacent to the gym.

Still painfully fresh in some people’s minds, the shooting was cited by both those who want trained school personnel to be armed and those opposing the idea.

Madison school parent Joseph Solomito recounted to the board how his tearful daughter had frantically called him as she hid during the 2016 school shooting.

“If this should ever happen again, I want my kids’ teachers to … protect them against someone with a gun and I want to thank our school board for having the courage to do that,” said Solomito.

But fellow school parent Sandra Ison said the single-campus district already has two armed school resource officers and she contends arming more school personnel is unnecessary and dangerous.

“If we start adding additional, armed volunteers and teachers, and we do have an active shooter situation or just a dangerous situation, and bullets start coming from multiple directions, one of our children could be hurt,” said Ison.

“It creates more danger than it does safety,” she said.

Scott Propps disagreed, saying having a few staffers with quick access to a hand gun “won’t make the school such a soft target.”

“It takes so long for the police to get here. A lot of can happen … if they (staffers) can stop them and save my kid or somebody’s else’s, go for it,” said Propps of the board’s plans to begin vetting and firearm training for staffers who volunteer for the upcoming school year.

The Madison school board held the meeting as a public debate forum to gauge community opinions on their plan. They took no action and all members declined to comment after the meeting.

The meeting is the latest, increasingly public skirmish over a new idea locally of arming school staffers as school systems in Butler County scramble to upgrade building security in the wake of the last school year’s shooting massacres in Florida and Texas high schools.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has in recent months added more fuel to the debate.

Jones, a long-time advocate for allowing armed personnel in local schools, has used public pressuring — including a billboard criticizing Hamilton’s school board for alleged lax security — in the often-contentious debate.

Earlier this year Jones offered free conceal carry warrant (CCW) training to local teachers, and dozens took his offer.

And Butler County is only the second among Ohio’s 88 counties to have a handful of school districts band together under a new state law to pursue a specific, school security tax levy making its way to the November ballot.

The high-profile contentiousness has also attracted international media attention and a national gun control group.

A British film crew was at Madison’s meeting Friday night. The United Kingdom’s Sundog Pictures has conducted interviews with Jones and others locally for a documentary to be broadcast on Great Britain’s Channel 4 TV.

The film company describes its project as “a documentary on school security following teachers’ training … to respond to potential school shootings.”

And the Journal-News was the first to report about a handful of school parents who have hired an attorney who wrote a letter opposing Madison Schools’ decision to proceed with its plan to allow some school staffers access to firearms.

In a 10-page letter to Madison Board of Education members, an attorney associated with the New York City-based Everytown For Gun Safety Support Fund criticized board members for their plans to arm some teachers who volunteer for the duty.

Though no legal action has been taken against the Madison board, the Columbus-based attorney — who spoke at Friday’s public meeting — who is working for the gun control organization warned the district faces “substantial legal and financial risk” should it continue with its plan.

The Madison Board of Education’s next, regularly scheduled meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday at the district’s central office at 1324 Middletown Eaton Road.

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