COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that school districts that allow employees to be armed must provide police-level training.
The divided state high court ruled 4-3 Wednesday that armed school employees must undergo an approved basic peace-officer-training program or have 20 years experience as a police officer.
At issue was a policy adopted by Madison Local Schools in Butler County in southwestern Ohio. The district voted to allow armed school employees after a 2016 shooting in which a 14-year-old boy shot and wounded two students.
A group of parents sued the district in September 2018 to prevent teachers from being armed without extensive training.
A Butler County judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating that school staff did not need training because they are not law enforcement officials.
The district then established a policy that requires 24 hours of training for staff carrying concealed weapons.
The parents appealed to the 12th District Court of Appeals, which ruled last March that Ohio law requires anyone who carries firearms in schools to have undergone a minimum of 728 hours of law enforcement training.
Nothing in Ohio law allows districts to circumvent the law’s training requirement, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote for the four-justice majority.
The statute prohibits schools from employing someone who is armed while on duty “unless the employee has satisfactorily completed an approved basic peace-officer-training program or has 20 years of experience as a peace officer,” O’Connor wrote.
Peace officer training is more than 700 hours and is what police officers go through for the academy.
Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro released a statement about the supreme court's ruling:
“The Ohio Education Association (OEA) welcomes the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court as a win for common sense and student safety. While OEA members have previously adopted legislative policies stating that teachers and other school employees should not be asked to serve a dual role as educators and armed school safety personnel, if districts do take this step, it is imperative that the state require rigorous training standards, created by safety experts, for school employees authorized to be armed within a school safety zone. The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision reflects that.”
Eric Delbert, owner of LEPD Firearms and Range in Columbus, said he believes in providing training and does work with some teachers, but said the training requirement by law is too strict and prevents school teachers from having the option.
“It's not a practical way to put something into place and protect kids in schools these days," he said.
Meanwhile, others like Melissa Cropper say this responsibility should not fall on teachers and said she believes the best protection can be provided through the use of school resource officers.
“We have been strongly advocating against loosening any of those [training] requirements currently law," she said.
Cropper is the President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers which filed an amicus brief in the case.
“We understand that parents, communities, schools, etc. are concerned about the safety of children and we are also but we believe that the safety concerns extend to how much training a person needs to carry a gun in school,” she said.
Both Cropper and Delbert agree school resource officers are vital to protecting students. Delbert hopes this ruling encourages districts that did away with them, to reconsider.
“We hope that it not only does that but also for those areas that might not have the resources to have an SRO that the legislators look and say wait a second, this maybe wasn't the intent when it was written so now let’s go back and come up with a program."
Ohio Representative Thomas Hall (R-Madison Township) said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, citing that it gives school boards the ability to make additional requirements.
“The Ohio General Assembly has a responsibility to give our school districts the option to protect their students and staff by embracing local control and establishing appropriate baseline training requirements for educators to carry a firearm,” Hall stated.
Right now there is a bill pending in the Ohio House that would exempt employees from the training requirement.