Updated: 5:51 p.m., Tuesday, March 31, 2020
An appeals court decision in Butler County Monday throws Ohio's program for arming teachers into doubt.
According to the decision in the lawsuit challenging Madison Township’s armed teacher policies, state law requires a school employee undergo the state’s peace officer training program or have experience working as a police officer to serve in a security role.
The lower court in Butler County, and supporters of arming teachers in Ohio, pointed to another law which says individuals can be armed on school grounds as long as they receive permission from the local school board.
Appeals Court Judge Robert Hendrickson disagreed, saying state law was clear about this dispute.
“By requiring more than 700 hours of training or 20 years of peace officer experience, the legislature expressed its clear intent that only individuals of the highest caliber, with significant training and experience, be permitted to carry a firearm on school grounds,” wrote Hendrickson. “Madison Local simply cannot circumvent the legislature’s intent by labeling authorized staff as volunteers.”
The decision only applies to schools in Madison Township. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court to issue an injunction, according to Alla Lefkowitz, an attorney for the gun control group Everytown and co-counsel for the residents who brought the suit.
“It really does call into question the legality of all armed staff programs in Ohio, which rely on a training that's less than the required peace officer training,” Lefkowitz said.
Ohio began allowing armed teachers in its schools shortly after the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Then-State Attorney General Mike DeWine issued guidance that left it up to local school boards to decide whether to arm teachers and what the requirements should be.
Gun rights group Buckeye Firearms began offering a three-day training program that was widely adopted – and was the training program used by the Madison Township school board.
There are no clear numbers on how many schools in Ohio allow armed teachers. But as of 2018, teachers from 225 school districts in 12 states had enrolled in the Buckeye Firearms-developed training program, known as FASTER.
According to Jim Irvine, who runs the FASTER program and is the former lobbyist for Buckeye Firearms Association, thousands of teachers have completed the firearms training program. He said the program has been successful and no district in Ohio has changed its mind after approving armed school staff and sending them through the FASTER program.
“Really what this is a tragedy for the parents and the children in that school district,” Irvine said. “That anyone is more interested in grinding a political axe than a child’s safety, I find disturbing.”
According to the appeals court, the state legislature will have to amend its law covering school security if the school board is going to keep using FASTER, or teachers will have to complete the state’s police officer training program.
It is unclear if the school district in Madison plans to appeal and the school board did not reply to ideastream’s request for comment.