Butler County lawmaker: Armed school staffers bill ‘critically urgent’ after high court ruling

Opponents say the measure has a long way to go before it’s ready.

Credit: George Frey

Credit: George Frey

A Butler County lawmaker wants his controversial armed school personnel bill to be ready for further debate in September when the General Assembly resumes its session.

But opponents say there’s a long way to go before House Bill 99 is ready.

Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision if school staff and teachers are armed by their districts, they will need the same level of training as law enforcement officers, which is more than 700 hours. The ruling was on a 2018 lawsuit filed by Madison Local School parents against the school district.

The decision also indicated more clarity from the General Assembly is needed. Rep. Tom Hall, Maidson Twp., said his bill provides that clarity. But it’s received heavy opposition.

Hall says his bill would allow teachers and school staff to carry guns on school property, inside buildings or at school events if they have the permission of the school board, are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and meet whatever additional standards imposed by the local school board.

Hall said he wants to hear from proponents and opponents of his bill because “we want to make the bill as good as possible for everybody.” While he doesn’t want to “rush it,” he said it is “critically urgent we get this done now because of the Supreme Court ruling.”

On April 15, more than 130 opponents spoke against the bill. Four people, including Hall, testified in March before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support.

Hall said there’s been discussion about a possible substitute bill, but “nothing has really stuck yet.”

“My big push is to get it done and ready to go by the first of September,” Hall said. “That way when we come back, everything is ready to go.”

Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, said he believes the prevailing mood during the April 15 hearing included “major concerns about the legislation that still needed to be addressed. If there’s going to be consensus, there will need to be big changes to the legislation.”

Referencing a pair of legal briefs filed in the Madison school parents vs. Madison Local Schools case, Leland said added training should be required because “experts agree you need training to overcome the body’s intense physiological response to someone shooting at you.” He also said accuracy decreases, peripheral vision becomes impaired, and there is a difficulty in determining who’s a threat and who is not.

Noble County School District Superintendent Dan Leffingwell, a supporter of House Bill 99, said his district has armed teachers and staff since 2015. While he supports a lot of what’s in the house bill ― in particular district choice ― he feels more training hours are necessary than just an eight-hour CCW course, which can be waived for veterans.

The teachers and staff in Noble County who volunteer for the program go through 25 hours of initial Faculty & Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response, or FASTER, instruction, and an additional 30 hours of training every summer with the support of local law enforcement. Because of the Supreme Court ruling, teachers and staff in Noble County won’t be armed in the 900-plus-student Eastern Ohio district.

“When the recent Supreme Court ruling came out, I had hundreds of calls from my residents that their kids are not going to be as safe without this,” said Leffingwell.

Leffingwell said all personnel must first complete a CCW course prior to their FASTER training, and not all who volunteer are allowed to participate.

Rachel Bloomekatz, one of the attorneys representing Madison school parents, also said eight hours of training is inadequate.

“The parents I represent want any legislative action to ensure that teachers are adequately trained so that children are not placed at greater risk because minimally trained teachers are prone to tragic accidents, misapprehending threats, and poor reactions in stressful situations,” she said.

Other amendments Leland plans to propose include a “safe storage” requirement of firearms, mental health checks of potentially armed school personnel, and 152 hours of training designed by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.

Bloomekatz agrees with the parent notification, saying school districts “must ensure that parents are informed” if there is armed staff in their children’s schools. She said it was “unusual” that Madison officials told parents of the program because most school districts do not, but “the core details of the armed teacher program were kept confidential until the lawsuit brought them to light.”

Leffingwell disagrees with identifying armed school personnel, saying that makes them “targets,” and says locking up firearms would delay response times.

Leland, however, would first like Hall and other House Bill 99 proponents to consider assigning a school resource officer in every school as a better option.

“We just passed a $1.7 billion tax break for the wealthiest Ohioans, which is enough to pay for a school resource officer in every school 10 times over,” he said.

While Hall says it’s “critically urgent” to pass a bill due to the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling, Leland said it’s “critical that we make sure our children are as safe as possible ― and that can’t be done on the cheap. We need to listen to the law enforcement, involve parents in the decision-making process, and design solutions that actually protect our children.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the comments of attorney Rachel Bloomekatz. We apologize for any mischaracterization.

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