Madison parents sue district, challenge plan to arm teachers

A group of parents in the Madison Local School District has sued the Board of Education and superintendent, 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 and a court order requiring disclosure of policies and procedures for arming staff, according to the lawsuit obtained by the Journal-News.

“Like many Madison parents, we have serious questions about the district’s resolution and how it will affect our kids’ safety,” Erin Gabbard, a plaintiff and parent of two children attending Madison Elementary School, said in a news release. “We’ve asked repeatedly for answers, but the board is continuing to keep the public in the dark about important details, from requirements for storage to the rules of engagement.”

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, comes two months after several families delivered a legal letter to the district raising concerns about the process, legality and wisdom of the board’s resolution to arm teachers.

Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff said the district generally does not comment on on-going litigation, but told the Journal-News that the district's Firearm Authorization Policy was adopted in accordance with Ohio law.

Authorization under this policy requires substantial training and a rigorous review, drug screens, and mental health examinations, she wrote in an email to the Journal-News.

She said the policy is an “additional safety measure” designed to protect students and staff from harm.

“The district’s highest priority is the safety of every child in our community,” she wrote.

The plaintiffs, five parents with 12 children in district schools, are represented by attorneys from Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Gupta Wessler PLLC.

“If school boards are going to authorize teachers or other staff to carry deadly weapons at school, they must have the extensive training that is specified in Ohio law. The Board is violating that requirement. And, in doing so, it’s putting our plaintiffs’ kids — and all Madison kids — at risk,” Rachel Bloomekatz, a Columbus-based attorney with Gupta Wessler PLLC, said in a news release.

The 137-page lawsuit notes the school district requires staff who want to carry guns complete a 26-hour training course. The lawsuit acknowledges the school board has discretion to allow armed staff, but must follow the law.

“Ohio law requires a school employee that goes ‘armed while on duty’ to have first completed a ‘basic peace officer training’ program or have 20 years experience serving as a peace officer. That training is over 700 hours,” the lawsuit notes.

The Gabbards have considered removing their two children, ages 8 and 10, from the school district but the lawsuit said they mainly moved to Middletown eight years ago because of Madison Schools.

“Even well-trained officers miss their targets under stress and Ms. Gabbard fears that her children could be the innocent bystanders tragically wounded (or worse) when insufficiently trained teachers attempt to help in a crisis (or perceived crisis),” the lawsuit reads. “The increased risk of harm to her children gives her extreme distress and every day that she drops off her children at school she wonders if she has made the wrong choice.”

The parents are asking the court to prohibit the district from allowing insufficiently trained armed staff, force the release of public records and award costs, expenses, statutory damages and attorneys fees.

In 2016, Madison Senior/Junior High School saw an eighth-grader fire a gun wounding three classmates.

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