A judge indicated Monday he will side with Madison schools in a high-profile lawsuit filed by parents who challenged the district’s policy of arming teachers and staffers.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater told the two sides during a hearing he wouldn’t rule from the bench but is leaning toward siding with the school district.
At issue is the number of hours the armed teachers and staffers would have to train, the 27 in the district’s policy or the more than 700 required of peace officers. Pater said his reading of the statutes doesn’t require school staff to be treated as security personnel requiring 700-plus hours of peace officer training.
“To read it in context it would easily be rational to say what this is talking about is a position — and it’s not designated as a security position, it’s not designated as a law enforcement position — but some position which encompasses carrying a firearm,” he said.
“The position of custodian, of secretary, the position of teacher, the position of a school administrator … those positions as positions don’t encompass, don’t require carrying firearms. I’m predisposed still in that direction, but I’ve been given some food for thought.”
Pater said he has to “mull” what he’d been told during the oral argument and, “something will be drafted very, very soon and you all will know.”
Both sides have asked Pater to grant summary judgment — effectively ending the case because there is no “genuine issue of material fact” — on their behalf.
The school district claims the parents misread state statutes that say gun-carrying teachers must have 700-plus hours of peace officer training. The parents say if the extensive training isn’t required, the “implications of the board’s interpretations are deeply troubling.”
A group of parents sued the Board of Education and superintendent in September 2018, alleging the board’s April resolution authorizing armed staff in schools violates an Ohio law requiring that armed school employees be trained and certified as peace officers. The gun program came about after a school shooting there three years ago when four students were injured by a classmate.
The parents are seeking an injunction blocking the district from arming teachers and other staff without the 728 hours of peace officer training required by law and a court order requiring disclosure of policies and procedures for arming staff. The judge said Monday he believes the disclosure part of the case is now over.
Throughout the lawsuit the two sides sought to have copious documents shielded from public view, so very little is known about where the program stands now. During court it was revealed two teachers and an administrator so far have been authorized to carry weapons at school. The three apparently went through the 27 hours of Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) training — required in the school policy — at the end of June.
The parents’ attorneys tried to convince Pater the FASTER classes are more like combat training, which moves teachers and other armed staff closer to the designation of a peace officer. James Miller, one of the parents’ attorneys, read from transcripts of depositions taken of one “John Doe” who went through the training.
“In FASTER training you’re taught to find an active shooter, so you go into a shoot house where there is a shooting taking place, and you have to be able to find the shooter, and engage the shooter and stop the threat while clearing the rooms along the way,” Miller read from the deposition.
Brodi Conover, one of the attorneys for the school district, said the armed staff have been instructed to follow the board’s policy to take the passive ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) approach, like all staff. It is not clear whether there are concealed weapons in the schools yet.
“These individuals (the armed staff) are supposed to stay where they are at, they are not to go out after the attacker,” Conover said. “Each of the deponents again said that the individuals tasked with going out to secure or apprehend the shooter is the school resource officer or local law enforcement.”
Since the judge didn’t issue a formal ruling, the attorneys could not comment on the proceeding.
Billy Ison sat through the three-hour hearing because he is afraid for the safety of his 18-year-old grandson, who will graduate in May. He said rather than fighting this lawsuit, he would rather the district pay for additional school resource officers “trained, uniformed, experienced law enforcement personnel in our schools, great idea.”
“I do not want my grandson or anyone else’s child going to school, in a school where teachers are allowed to carry guns with no training,” he said. “I would encourage everybody in our community to get out and get involved in this argument for the welfare of our children.”
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