How both sides responded to a judge keeping armed teachers in Madison schools

Madison school district staffers do not need copious hours of training to be able to carry concealed weapons in school, according to Butler County Judge Charles Pater.

Pater decided Thursday on the five-month case that was filed by parents of Madison schools students related to the ditrict’s policy of arming teachers and staff.

At issue is the number of hours the armed teachers and staffers would have to train, the 27 in the district’s policy or 728 hours required of peace officers. The parents also sought — and were successful in getting — documentation associated with the gun policy.

“The phrase at issue, ‘a position in which such person goes armed while on duty’ in context, must refer to ‘persons otherwise privately employed in a police capacity,’” Pater wrote in his decision.

“… Clearly teachers, administrators, administrative assistants and custodians, along with most, if not all, other school employees are not employed by educational institutions in such capacity, unlike someone such as a school resource officer who is.”

When asked about an appeal, Rachel Bloomekatz, a Columbus-based attorney who serves as co-counsel with Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, said, “we’re considering all our options.”

“We’re pleased the court recognized that Madison parents have a right to critical details about the district’s program that the board had tried to keep secret from parents, like the terms of the policy itself and how it is being implemented. Much of what we learned is that the board is not following what it told the public,” Bloomekatz said.

“At the same time, we respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, which means that under state law, teachers and other staff can go armed all day, every day at school with Ohio’s kids after having completed as little as eight hours of training — six of which can be completed online … As Gov. DeWine has said, it is clear that teachers should have more than concealed carry training before bringing guns to school.

A statement by Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff said the district’s goal, even though issue has been controversial, has been the safety of the children.

“The board respects that the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit might hold different opinions, but hopes that they will pursue other avenues than litigation to effect change in the future,” Tuttle-Huff said.

“The board will continue doing what we believe is in the best interest of our community. Our primary concern has been and continues to be the safety of our students, and what works for our community may not work for others. While this policy has received a substantial amount of attention, it is just one of many steps that have been taken to ensure student safety.”

There have been gun-carrying staff in the schools during the litigation, because Pater never issued an order to pause the gun program while the lawsuit was pending. During a hearing this week, it was revealed two teachers and an administrator went through training in June.

A statement the Journal-News received from the superintendent indicates the school board has authorized 10 people to carry guns in school.

“The policy is currently in effect,” she wrote. “And as the policy and the authorization letter make clear, simply because an individual is authorized to carry on school grounds doesn’t mean that they are required to do so — it is entirely a voluntary decision left to the individual.”

The 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.

According to a motion filed by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation asking to intervene in the case — the judge denied the request — they provided the 27-hour training.

“Certain teachers and staff members of the Madison Local Schools have been approved by their board of education and have participated in the FASTER program,” the motion reads. “Participation in the program has provided educators practical violence response training, including response with handguns and to provide emergency first aide to victims of violence.”

But during the hearing James Miller, one of the parents’ attorneys, read from transcripts of depositions taken of one “John Doe” who went through the training, who described a more aggressive approach.

“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.

However, the district’s attorney, Brodi Conover, said everyone in the school district, including those in the gun program have been instructed to only use the passive ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) approach.

The parents’ attorneys fought throughout the case to get information about the program released, including facts like the psychological tests performed on those individuals and the policy itself. They always agreed the identities of the armed staffers should be kept secret.

Pater issued a ruling last week that shields the identities and HIPPA protected evaluations but said since much of the gun policy has already been made public in a newsletter it can’t be shielded.

During the hearing Conover reiterated why shielding the identities is crucial.

“One board member specifically said that’s the beauty of the policy, you never know if that staff member is carrying or not and that provides a deterrent to a would be killer that comes into a school,” Conover said. “Because they don’t know which ones might be doing it or if they are actually doing it.”

A second lawsuit unrelated to this one was filed in federal court Wednesday. The grandfather of an 18-year-old Madison schools student claims the board has tried to muzzle him and his family when they try to speak in opposition to the schools controversial concealed carry policy.

Billy Ison, his wife, their daughter and her significant other and a friend filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. They claim the school board trampled their right to free expression and made it virtually impossible for them to speak their views during school board meetings.

“The school board has engaged in a concerted campaign designed to chill and silence plaintiffs from further public criticism of its actions by imposing prior restraints on plaintiffs ability to participate in public meetings and by fabricating requirements as barriers to public participation that do not appear in the school board’s written rules,” the lawsuit reads.

The family has several other complaints and is seeking an injunction from the court and unspecified monetary damages.

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