The school safety gun debate is going to the next level in Butler County now that the 12th District Court of Appeals has set an oral argument in the Madison Schools armed staff lawsuit.
The court challenge came in response to a gun policy that was passed about a year ago after a 2016 shooting at Madison Jr./Sr. High School, where a student injured four of his classmates.
A group of parents sued the district last September seeking an injunction blocking the district from arming teachers and other staff without the training required of law enforcement officials — 728 hours versus the 24 hours the school has in its policy — and a court order requiring disclosure of policies and procedures for arming staff.
Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Pater sided with the school district, saying copious peace officer training is not called for in the statutes.
“Clearly teachers, administrators, administrative assistants and custodians, along with most, if not all, other school employees are not employed by educational institutions in (a police) capacity, unlike someone such as a school resource officer who is,” Pater wrote.
The parents appealed that decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals, as well as Pater’s decision to shield from public view parts of the trial briefing, hearing and records. An oral argument is scheduled for Oct. 7.
“The plain text of the relevant law is clear,” said Rachel Bloomekatz, one of the attorneys for the parents, told the Journal-News. “If school boards are going to authorize teachers or other staff to carry deadly weapons at school, they must have the extensive training that is specified in Ohio law. Whatever your views on the policy, the board must follow state law and that is why we’re appealing.”
The schools responded by saying they have followed the law and actually gone beyond the law by requiring the 24-hour FASTER training, in addition to the eight-hour training to obtain a concealed carry license.
“The fact that each of the individuals authorized to carry a concealed weapon on school property has a valid concealed handgun license is reason enough to affirm the trial court’s judgment finding that the board fully complied with the law,” the brief reads.
At a hearing before Pater earlier this year it was revealed three staffers took the FASTER training and are authorized to bring firearms to school. When asked if more staff are armed now, Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff replied, “that information is protected for security reasons.”
The appeal also finds fault with the secret documents. Bloomekatz said the judge cited the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) as a reason to shield psychological records of armed staff and that was an error. She said doctors and health insurance companies — which are covered entities under HIPPA — aren’t allowed to disclose medical information but the school district isn’t a covered entity.
“The board categorically cannot violate HIPPA by releasing the psychological evaluations,” she wrote. “And with the consent of all parties, the evaluations and related testimony are redacted to hide the identifies of the John Does, so there are no privacy concerns about revealing who is armed or a specific individual’s health status.”
Both sides have supporters who have filed “friend of the court” briefs in the case. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, Inc. support the school district. Experts in School Safety and Firearms Training and Professor Peter M. Shane from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, who teaches and writes about statutory interpretation and separation of powers, support the parents.
There is another lawsuit tied to the armed staff policy currently in federal court. Madison schools grandfather Billy Ison and his family sued the schools in February in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. They claim the school board violated their right to free expression and made it virtually impossible for them to speak their views about the concealed carry gun policy during school board meetings.
District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett refused to issue a temporary restraining order or injunction in July. The Isons recently asked him to “alter or amend” his decision.
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