Madison parents plan appeal to judge’s decision on armed staff in district

The Madison schools parents who sued the district over its concealed weapons policy will take Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater’s decision against them to the the 12th District Court of Appeals.

The court challenge came in response to a gun policy that was passed about a year ago after a 2016 shooting at Madison Jr./Sr. High School, where a student injured four of his classmates.

A group of parents sued the district last September 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.

Pater ruled last month school personnel do not need to be trained as peace officers.

“The plain text of the relevant law is clear,” said Rachel Bloomekatz, one of the attorneys for the group of parents. “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. Whatever your views on the policy, the board must follow state law and that is why we’re appealing.”

The school district has also responded to a lawsuit filed by Billy Ison and his family over the board policy governing public meeting participation. Ison, his wife, their daughter and her significant other and a friend filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati last month. They claim the school board violated their right to free expression and made it virtually impossible for them to speak their views about the controversial concealed carry gun policy 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 school district responded Friday saying it is well within its rights to place restrictions on public comments at meetings to maintain order and ensure efficient, productive school board meetings.

Part of the policy requires people visit the district office two business days prior to a meeting and fill out a public participation form before they will be allowed to speak. The brief filed by the district claims the district’s policy “imposes the exact same regulations” as seven other nearby school districts, including Hamilton City Schools.

The Hamilton Schools public participation policy states:

“If your comments are not going to request an action by the Board of Education, you do not have to submit your request to the Office of the Superintendent. You will have the opportunity to sign-in for ‘Public Participation’ once you arrive to the board meeting chamber.”

There is no mention of pre-registering to speak, in person at the district office or having to produce identification like Madison requires. One of Madison’s attorneys, Brodi Conover, told the Journal-News the district was referring to some of the “language” that is identical to other school participation policies, prohibiting “antagonist, personally directed” comments during meetings.

When asked if it wasn’t entirely accurate to tell the court the regulations are exactly the same as other districts, Conover replied, “our brief says what it says, I’ve not been to all the various other districts’ board meetings, we’re just going off the board (Hamilton’s) policy.”

MORE: Family claims intimidation, censorship in Madison schools gun debate in federal lawsuit

The suit, which is seeking an injunction and unspecified monetary damages, claims the board had Ison physically removed from a meeting in May and now has banned him from using the words “pro-gun agenda.” His daughter Sandra claims “two armed deputies” now flank her sides at meetings which “causes her to feel afraid.”

The board has pointed out Ison and his family collectively have been allowed to speak out against the firearm policy “over 35 times on 13 different occasions.”

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