In the two-week wake of the mass Florida school shooting, about 150 Butler County school employees have undergone free CCW training at the invitation of Sheriff Richard Jones.
A 42-year-old former pastor was one of the participants.
Rick Moore, an instructional aide to three students at Edgewood Middle School, said he had been considering getting a CCW permit for some time and the sheriff’s offer made it the right time.
“It is a good way to protect yourself and your family,” Moore said, noting he doesn’t own a handgun and had never shot one.
His experience with firearms until the eight-hour CCW class was limited to shooting shotguns and rifles with his brothers in the country.
About 16 school employees took the class led by BCSO Capt. John Sons. They included teachers, administrators and maintenance workers.
“There were a lot of gun safety, gun etiquette things that isn’t something you consider when target-shooting with your brothers. Your dad taught you how to be safe, but this is a whole different level. It was very interesting and very valuable information,” Moore said.
Moore said completion of the class does not mean he will be armed at school any time soon.
“That would be a process, nobody is saying we just want a bunch of people carrying guns around the school, there obviously has to be a plan set in place,” he said, noting different school districts are using different firearm plans throughout the state.
“It is up to each school district to decide what is best for them,” Moore said.
He praised school resource officers assigned to the Edgewood schools.
“I know that I feel safe,” Moore said. “The SROs here at Edgewood do a great job. They have a big presence, they do well protecting us and the kids. My thought was if it was something that they needed help with and it was something I could do, I would be willing to do that.”
Jones, who not only offered the classes but took to social media urging residents to demand local school boards allow some teachers and non-teaching staffers who volunteer access to guns while working, said he is satisfied with the outcome.
“It has brought attention where it was need,” Jones said. “School boards are taking about policies in executive session.”
The sheriff said the office will re-evaluate to determine if another round of CCW classes for school personnel is needed.
“We are not saying every teacher should be carrying a gun. Not all of them want to. Not all of them should. But three or four in a school, depending on the size, is needed to keep everyone safe,” Jones said.
Edgewood schools aren’t alone locally in making school security a top priority discussion in the wake of the Florida school shooting.
Since Sheriff Jones’ CCW offer - and his high-profile pressure via social media on local school boards to add more armed personnel in schools – Lakota board members have heard from its residents, both pro and con, about that idea.
While Lakota officials said school security has always been paramount, they understand the public’s renewed concern given the deadly school attacks elsewhere.
Veteran Lakota school board member Lynda O’Connor said she doesn’t take offense of Jones’ public lobbying of area boards.
“I think the Sheriff’s comments come from a genuine, deep concern for our community’s students and staff and I share that concern. Lakota’s board has committed to consider all options available to us,” said O’Connor.
She, and others on the board, have stressed that maintaining school safety includes many variables beyond having more firearms in schools.
“Security is an ongoing concern, as are mental health issues. The responsibility for these concerns will not end - we as a community will always have safety and security as a top priority,” said O’Connor.
Longtime Lakota teacher Emilly Osterling echoed the point about student mental health issues needing to be addressed before they digress to the point of deadly attacks on schools.
“We need to be proactive and not reactive, and equipping schools with the help they need in addressing mental illness within their buildings, that could drastically change the conversation,” said Osterling.
In the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, the city’s police chief has recently helped the local school board respond to residents who are peppering members with questions about school security as well as giving their opinions about arming teachers.
Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said city-provided, armed school resource officers (SROs) are a key part of the city and school district’s joint efforts in keeping schools safe. The district added SROs in the fall, and they are rotated at varying times among Hamilton’s schools with their police cruisers parked in front of schools serving as a visual deterrent.
“Schools are paying 75 percent of that, but the city is providing a cruiser. We’ve made the commitment to make sure they have a cruiser available there, so if they need that for whatever challenge may arise,” said Bucheit.
The response from staffers and school parents has been positive, he said.
It’s “an opportunity to interact with the kids on a daily basis and build those relationships. And that’ll pay untold, untold dividends that you’ll never know. Some of these kids will think better of a cop.”
The responsibility to protect schools extends far beyond campus boundaries, said Interim Hamilton Superintendent Larry Knapp in a recent statement sent out to school families.
“Our district is doing a lot to ensure the appropriate plans, systems and processes are in place for our students and staff, but we need to ask our parents and guardians to play a role in the safety of their children,” said Knapp.
“Providing a safe environment for all should be everyone’s top priority,” he said.