Judge rules Madison Schools gun case will be transparent

A judge has ruled that documents in a case challenging Madison schools’ plan to arm staff in district buildings won’t have a process to be automatically sealed, despite the apparent hopes of attorneys.

The two sides had indicated they hoped to have a process in place to file some documents under seal in the case in Butler County Common Pleas Court. Judge Charles Pater said he denied the request to file a “protective order” because “in general, they violate public policy favoring public access to court filings.”

RELATED: Madison Schools parents want judge to pause gun program

A group of parents sued the Board of Education and superintendent in September, 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 parents are seeking an injunction blocking the district from arming teachers and other staff without the training required by law — 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.

Neither side has made an on-the-record motion for what is known as a protective order, but an email string between Pater’s magistrate Ronald James and the attorneys indicates they wanted to have something in place that would allow them to file matters under seal.

“To clarify, neither party imminently intends to make a sealed filing,” one of the parents’ attorneys, James Miller, wrote. “We are negotiating a stipulated (proposed) protective order to facilitate discovery of confidential information.”

The school district maintains that information about the gun policy is confidential information that if released “would compromise the safety of students, staff and others on the property of Madison Local School District and compromise the school emergency management plan.”

MORE: Madison parents sue district, challenge plan to arm teachers

The attorneys were seemingly trying to come up with a proposed blanket order that would allow automatic sealing if they mark documents confidential or highly confidential. James sent Alex Ewing, counsel for the school district, an email Dec. 7 saying the court would take motions to seal on a case-by-case basis. Ewing sent the “executed protective order” to the court Dec. 11, which apparently prompted Pater’s order.

Pater wrote that “the court communicated that it would not ‘sign off’ on any agreed protective order simply because the parties agreed to it.”

Neither side would comment on the judge’s ruling.

Pater has yet to rule on the parents’ motion to pause the gun program while the lawsuit is pending.

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