The arrest of a Hamilton student with a loaded gun this week has triggered another blast of criticism from Butler County’s sheriff, who called on area school parents to demand safer schools.
“Somebody is going to die,” Sheriff Richard Jones told the Journal-News after broadcasting a short Facebook Live speech Thursday during which he said Hamilton School officials are not doing enough to protect the district’s 10,000 students.
Jones also reiterated his call for Hamilton — and other school systems in the county — to allow trained school staffers access to firearms to help protect against school shootings and to use metal detectors daily to keep weapons out of school buildings.
Jones pointed to Wednesday’s arrest of a male student at Hamilton Freshman School who had a loaded, .25-caliber gun in the building.
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“That was a fully loaded, gun that came through the front door of the school,” he said, referring to his lobbying for metal detectors.
Hamilton Police, which provide armed officers to most of the city’s schools, said the gun found on the ninth-grade student was reported stolen from a Hamilton residence in early November, and the burglary remains under investigation.
The student remains in custody at Butler County Juvenile Detention Center and is charged with “illegal conveyance” and “possession of a deadly weapon at school.”
“People are angry as hell and they should be,” Jones said of school parents, whom he urged to lobby their local school officials to arm school staffers and use metal detectors.
Jones also reiterated his previous contention of Hamilton school officials - specifically Superintendent Larry Knapp - as untrustworthy.
Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit defended Hamilton Superintendent Larry Knapp, saying “he has consistently demonstrated a passion and sincere desire to do what’s best for the children, faculty, and staff in Hamilton schools. He’s a man I trust and respect. I look forward to continuing my work with Larry, the (Hamilton Schools) and our entire community as we evaluate and improve our plans for keeping our schools safe.”
Jones also criticized the 23-school, 16,500-student Lakota Schools for not acting on his recommendation to use hand-held metal detectors to regularly check students as they enter schools.
“They don’t want their schools to be hardened (more secure),” said the sheriff of Lakota.
Hamilton and Lakota officials responded by citing numerous and ongoing upgrades in security measures – including adding armed School Resource Officers supplied by local police departments and from the sheriff’s office.
“The board of education and the Hamilton City School district place school safety as a top priority,” said Hamilton Superintendent Larry Knapp.
“As superintendent, I have worked and taken the unprecedented approach in involving and engaging staff, students, parents, and community members in regard to our safety and security planning,” said Knapp.
Moreover, Knapp said starting in January two extra SROs will be used in the district and metal detecting wands will be used randomly but not daily.
Lakota school officials reacted to the sheriff by not specifically addressing Jones’ contentions about their use of metal detectors but pointed out their adding armed SROs to all its school campuses this year.
They also emphasized part of their school security strategy is not publicly divulge what measures they take.
“While many of the security initiatives are visible in our schools, it is important to note that there are also many that take place behind the scenes. These will not be shared publicly for the safety of our students and staff,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota Schools.
It’s all the latest flurry of accusations that started in the summer and may have contributed to the wide voter defeat of a school security tax in Hamilton – and four other districts – that Jones actively campaigned against. He contended local schools have enough money in existing budgets to upgrade security and add armed personnel.
Jones also announced he will again offer free firearm conceal and carry weapon (CCW) classes to Butler County teachers and school staffers – a move he made earlier this year in the aftermath of the high school shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida. The classes saw 150 school staffers earn their CCW licenses.
The new, free class will be offered in January and will be limited to 50 school employees.
And the sheriff said he plans to soon repeat his purchase of downtown Hamilton billboard advertising space, which he did during the summer with private money, to again criticize school officials for what he claims is their lax attitude on security.
Some Hamilton and other Butler County school parents joined in the public discussions on social media, with some citing their anxiety over the idea of allowing school staffers, who volunteer and are trained, to have access to firearms during the school day.
Hamilton school parent Brittany Blankenship wrote on social media “metal detectors in every school pre-K through 12 and all colleges. Period no questions asked it should have been done a long long time ago.”
“My daughter is in 8th grade it’s scary that I worry so much while she’s at school being scared something will happen at any moment is not good. Metal detectors would make a huge difference in safety,” said Blankenship.
Edgewood Schools parent Lisa Shaw Donelson said “more people would like metal detectors and officers on site, but then where do we draw the line?”
“I don’t believe in firearms especially when children are involved but it’s a different time now. I want the kids not to have to worry about school,” she said.