How much training do armed teachers need? Not as much as police, proposed Ohio bill says

The Madison Schools have filed an appeal of the 12th District Court of Appeals decision peace officer training is required for armed staff to the Ohio Supreme Court. A group of parents sued the district over the school board’s policy plan to arm school staffers. The district was the site of a 2016 student shooting that wounded three students. STAFF FILE/2016

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The Madison Schools have filed an appeal of the 12th District Court of Appeals decision peace officer training is required for armed staff to the Ohio Supreme Court. A group of parents sued the district over the school board’s policy plan to arm school staffers. The district was the site of a 2016 student shooting that wounded three students. STAFF FILE/2016

State Sen. Bill Coley introduced legislation that could end debate over how much training is required for armed school staffers.

The Liberty Twp. Republican introduced a bill in late May that would says school staff, other than those working in a police capacity, are not required to have peace officer training.

The bill comes after a 12th District Court of Appeals ruling in March in an ongoing case between Madison Schools and district parents. Its language indicates the purpose of the bill is to overrule that court’s decision.

Erin Gabbard and a few other parents sued the district in September 2018 seeking an injunction blocking the district from arming teachers and other staff without the training required of law enforcement officials — 728 hours versus the 26 hours the school has in its policy — and a court order requiring disclosure of policies and procedures for arming staff.

The appeals court ruled that the more intensive training is required, overruling a Butler County judge who ordered that staff are not peace officers and therefore do not require police levels of training from the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA). Madison was ordered to stop arming teachers without that increased training.

RELATED: Official: Madison Schools’ arming teachers case will have impact across Ohio

“The express language of the statute does not suggest an intention to allow teachers or staff to carry a firearm while on duty with less training than that indicated in the statute,” Judge Robert Ringland wrote for the court. “Rather, the plain language of the statute reveals that a board of education may only employ such persons if they have received significant training or have more than 20 years of experience.”

The case is now pending in the Ohio Supreme Court.

Coley told the Journal-News he and his fellow legislators are “at a loss” to understand the appeals court ruling.

“The ruling is clearly erroneous, it was a terrible ruling,” Coley said of the 12th District decision. “Look, we made it clear that people that are employed as security guards have to have OPODA training, we said that clearly that those are the people that had to have OPODA training. The bill clearly authorized them to allow other people to bring fire arms into the building and the school district would decide what level of training those people had to have.”

The parents’ attorneys have filed a memorandum asking the high court not to take jurisdiction over the case, in it they mention Coley’s bill. Rachel Bloomekatz, one of the attorneys representing the parents, told the Journal-News the 12th District ruling “will improve the safety of students, teachers and staff.”

“It is concerning to see a bill moving forward now that would change Ohio law to allow teachers and other staff to carry hidden, loaded guns in schools with almost no training at all,” she said. “The parents I represent are rightfully concerned that this endangers school children across Ohio.”

Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff said they now have two avenues by which to remedy what they believe is an “incorrect interpretation of the law.”

“Get the Supreme Court of Ohio to accept the case and then interpret the law as we believe it was intended. The other way is to get the General Assembly to overturn the decision legislatively,” she said. “We welcome Senator Coley’s effort to do that. Either way, we simply want Madison Local School District to be permitted to protect its students and staff in the way that works best for this district.”

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