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Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Widely Used Policy For Arming Teachers

A 2017 training for school staff offered by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation. [Phoebe Petrovic / Ideastream Public Media]
photo of armed teacher training

Updated: 3:58 p.m., Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that armed school staff need peace officer training or 20 years law enforcement experience, throwing into doubt the future of existing rules for arming teachers set up by school districts across the state.

Under the 4-3 decision, school staff now need to take the 700-plus hour peace officer training course required by police departments before they can carry a gun while at work.

The case challenged rules set up by Madison Local School District in Butler County in 2018, which permitted staff to carry firearms with school board approval.

Ohio law prohibits carrying firearms on school grounds, but at issue were two separate laws in Ohio Revised Code that established exceptions to that prohibition.

Parents who brought the case against Madison’s school district relied on a law requiring all armed staff performing security duties to have basic peace officer training. The other law, which Madison and many other school districts with armed staff have cited, allows school boards to issue exemptions permitting armed individuals on school grounds.

Other than needing a concealed carry permit, any additional restrictions are left up to local school boards.

In Madison’s case, armed staff also needed at least 24 hours of response-to-active-shooter training, mental preparation training, a handgun certification, a background check and mental health exam.

 “All this lawsuit was really about was making sure the kids at Madison Local School District were as safe as possible,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law and co-counsel for the Madison parents who brought the case.

Included in the information they learned from the district during the case, Lefkowitz said they learned one staff member authorized to carry a firearm had failed accuracy tests twice.

An  appeals court ruled against the school district last year.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote the majority opinion for the Ohio Supreme Court, affirming the appellate decision, and was the sole Republican siding with the high court’s three Democrats.

“A school employee who holds a position other than that of a special police officer or security guard is subject to the training-or-experience requirement if the employee “goes armed”  during the time [emphasis in original] that the employee is performing his or her job duties, whatever those duties might be,” O’Connor wrote.

The Buckeye Firearms Foundation, an offshoot of the state’s gun rights group Buckeye Firearms Association,  started training teachers to respond to active shooters in 2013, following the Sandy Hook school shooting.

It’s unclear how many teachers have been through the training because schools classify their armed-teacher policies as private information under a security plan exemption to public records rules. Lefkowitz said that is problematic.

“And that secrecy aspect is really what drove the parents to bring this lawsuit in the first place because I think at the very beginning they were just concerned that they weren’t being told the full story,” Lefkowitz said.

According to Buckeye Firearms,  as of 2018 about 200 districts had sent staff for the three-day training. The court’s decision makes that training insufficient, but the state legislature is working to pass a law to change that.

The Ohio Senate approved a bill in November that would have exempted teachers from peace officer training, but it died in the House. State Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) introduced a new bill in the House this session and  House Bill 99 was  debated in committee earlier this year.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.