Sheriff won’t support school levies unless districts look at armed personnel

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones declared this week that he “won’t support a school levy again that doesn’t address school safety with armed personnel.”

Jones’ comments were fueled by his disappointment that not a single county school district has adopted his proposal to use retired police officers as armed substitutes teachers in the classroom. While Jones, a Liberty Twp. resident, can only vote for school issues where he lives, the sheriff is a political heavyweight in Butler County with tremendous influence.

And it was unclear Friday whether the “support” Jones might withhold from school levies was financial or simply verbal.

Jones and former Mason police officer Scott Miller floated the idea of hiring retired officers as substitutes in the wake of the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. The sheriff envisioned Miller, who was sworn in as a special deputy and was certified to teach as a substitute Butler and Warren counties, teaching classes alongside educators, but he would be packing a gun should a violent situation arise.

Before publicly unveiling the proposal, Jones said two principals who liked the concept told him they anticipated the plan would be approved by school boards. But almost five months later, no one has.

“None of the school boards have the courage to hire him (Miller) as an armed substitute teacher,” Jones said. “The school boards are kind of weak, and kids continue to bring guns to school.”

Substitute teachers in all 10 Butler County school districts are hired and assigned by the Butler County Educational Service Center. ESC Superintendent John Graft said there were liability issues with regard to a substitute teacher carrying a weapon.

“After talking with our insurance carrier and our attorney, we determined there were complications,” Graft said, adding the final decision, however, rested with individual school boards.

Graft said Miller has been working as a substitute teacher, but not with a gun.

Jones viewed the concept as a way to get more armed and trained personnel into schools with little added cost. In the meantime, the sheriff also implemented a program called “Operation Safe Schools,” where deputies visited county schools as part of their daily patrols.

Deputies logged more than 340 visits to schools in April, according to the sheriff’s office. Jones said he would be evaluating the program to determine if it will continue next school year.

Ross Local Schools Board President David Brown said the deputy visits are welcome because the district does not have school resource officers.

But he added: “I didn’t get the feeling the board was interested in putting guns in classrooms.”

Ross Superintendent Greg Young said the district is fortunate that schools are located only a half mile away from the township’s police department, which would make for a quick response time in a crisis situation. Additionally, he said the district has focused on mental health counseling for students and more secure entrances at its school buildings.

New Miami Local School District Superintendent Dave Gibson said the board never had a formal discussion about the armed substitutes.

“That is because of me more than anything,” Gibson said. “It is an enormous decision. It is not so much a lack of courage that we didn’t take action, but there are a little different set of rules when it comes to students, liability and safety.”

Gibson said there are reservations about having people in school buildings with a gun, trained or otherwise.

“Training the staff and administrators on how to be safe, and teaching the kids to tell what they know is part of the plan,” he said, noting the school does have good safety and security procedures. “It is really about prevention.

Three Middletown police officers serve as school resource officers in Middletown schools. Superintendent Greg Rasmussen said the district did not publicly discuss the sheriff’s armed substitute proposal.

“We work with the people who are here every day (Middletown police) and we feel we have a great plan,” Rasmussen said.

Hamilton City Schools also work with the Hamilton police department and through its district safety committee to develop and review safety practices and procedures, said Joni Copas, district spokeswoman.

She said the armed substitute teacher idea was discussed, “but it went nowhere.”

Jones said everyone should be very concerned with the safety of public schools, citing last month’s incident at La Salle High School in Cincinnati when a student shot himself in the head in a classroom.

“An armed person is needed in every school,” Jones said. “It’s the times we’re living in.”

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