Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..
Arguing for their right to arm school personnel, 17 schools from 11 counties in Ohio asked the Ohio Supreme Court to allow them to continue using firearms as an option for student safety.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.
The schools are asking for the state’s highest court to reverse an appeals court decision that said state law did not allow boards of education to allow armed personnel without training on the same level as police and security officers.
Four of the schools came from Shelby County, two each represented Hardin and Montgomery counties, and one district each from Tuscarawas, Williams, Adams, Morgan, Noble, Coshocton and Portage counties were listed on a brief to the court.
Boards of education or governing boards for all but one of the districts have authorized certain staff members to carry weapons within school zones as long as they have concealed handgun licenses.
One school, Shelby County’s Jackson Center Local Schools, “is currently taking steps in the process of considering the authorization of staff members to become part of its school safety team and to carry a weapon into a school safety zone,” according to court documents.
The school districts argue that Ohio Revised Code allows anyone to carry a firearm into a school safety zone with the written authorization from the board of education. But they argue, just as Madison Local Schools and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost argued, the law does not require teachers or anyone other than police and security personnel to be trained to the standard of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA).
“By its plain terms, this would apply to law enforcement but not to administrators, teachers, or support staff authorized to carry a firearm in a school safety zone,” the districts wrote in their brief to the court.
The school representatives urged the court to recognize that decisions about student safety “are best left to locally-elected boards of education.”
The schools said giving board of education the right to govern in varying ways is “simply federalism,” calling boards “laboratories of democracy.”
Furthering that argument, the schools said boards were entrusted by the state and the legislature to “serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of (Ohio),” quoting a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an unrelated case.
They criticized the 12th District Court of Appeals decision in the case, saying the court took away the meaning of the Ohio law regarding firearms allowances in schools, and made “arming staff entirely impractical.”
“As a result of the 12th District’s decision, if an Ohio school district desires to arm any administrator, teacher, or support staff, the district is left with two options: (1) hire a police officer to teach English; or (2) send an algebra teacher to the police academy,” the brief from the districts stated.
The schools went so far as to say schools will be “less safe” if the supreme court agrees with the 12th District’s decision, because of the varying amount of resources from school to school. Hiring more school resource officers isn’t always in the budget, they wrote.
They estimate a school resource officer’s salary to be $50,000 per year. They also say sending a school employee to FASTER, a training given by pro-gun lobby Buckeye Firearms Association and marketed specifically to teachers and school staff, costs “a couple thousand dollars.”
“Unsurprisingly, the resource discrepancy between districts in Ohio is largely exacerbated between larger, suburban and urban districts and smaller, rural districts,” the brief states. “This money gap, though, has a direct impact on the ability of a school district to safely protect its students and staff.”
The FASTER program is later called the state’s and country’s “preeminent active school shooter training program” more than once, and the districts say nearly 200 school districts in Ohio have been sent to it. The attorney writing on behalf of the districts, Jonathan Fox, is named as Buckeye Firearms Association member in a story on the BFA website.
The court case is running parallel to proposed legislation that recently passed a state Senate committee regarding armed school personnel