Ohio Supreme Court will review Madison Schools’ arming staffers case

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to review the Madison Schools armed staffer lawsuit. Some parents and residents in the Madison school system in Butler County have sued the district over the school boards 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 Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to review the Madison Schools armed staffer lawsuit. Some parents and residents in the Madison school system in Butler County have sued the district over the school boards policy plan to arm school staffers. The district was the site of a 2016 student shooting that wounded three students. STAFF FILE/2016

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to review the Madison Schools appeal of a decision that requires peace officer-level training of hundreds of hours for armed staffers.

The school district appealed to the high court after a 12th District Court of Appeals ruling in March rendered its armed staffer policy virtually invalid. Supreme Court spokeswoman Anne Yeager told the Journal-News all seven justices voted in favor of taking the case up for review. The high court accepts an average of 6% of discretionary appeals filed per year.

Erin Gabbard and 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.

Madison Local Schools Board President Dave French said the board is happy the court agreed to hear the case.

“Madison Local Schools is pleased that the Ohio Supreme Court has taken the appeal. Fundamentally, this case is about local control. The decision of whether staff should be permitted to carry firearms is best left to local communities,” French said. “Our school district experienced a school shooting in 2016. The district doesn’t have the benefit of guaranteed low response times by local law enforcement. Armed staff helps keep Madison Schools safe.”

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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.

“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 parents’ attorney, Rachel Bloomekatz, said she wasn’t surprised the high court accepted jurisdiction.

“Given a case of this importance to the safety of Ohio’s children, it was expected that the Ohio Supreme Court would accept jurisdiction,” Bloomekatz said. “The parents expect that, like the Court of Appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court will recognize that Ohio law is clear and that the school board cannot allow teachers to go armed all day, every day, in Ohio classrooms with just a long weekend of training.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office and 11 other school districts have filed memoranda in favor of the Madison Schools’ position.

Ohio Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp. has introduced a bill that specifically nullifies the 12th District Court ruling. There have been two hearings in the Government Oversight and Reform committee, at the last one on July 21 117 people, including Gabbard testified as opponents of the bill.

Coley said he said he understands there are people who don’t want guns in schools but there are other things to be considered.

“We have a number of situations where law enforcement is 20, 30 minutes away and a bad person can wreak havoc without any fear of reprisal from law enforcement when you know that’s the situation,” Coley said. “So putting the decision of whether or or not to have firearms on premises, leaving that with the local school district is a smart thing for the legislature to do.”

He said he “has no doubt” the Supreme Court will overturn the 12th District opinion, if not SB 317 will take care of the situation. He said there will be at least one more committee hearing on the measure.

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