Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down School District's Armed Staff Policy

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

A narrowly divided state Supreme Court in Ohio has ruled that school districts hoping to arm and train school staff to defend against active shooters must put employees through more than 700 hours of training or limit the armed staff to those with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience.

The case against the Madison school district was brought by several parents who objected to the district’s decision to allow vetted volunteer staffers who had gone through the Ohio FASTER program to carry on campus, but the lawsuit itself was largely funded by gun control sugar daddy Michael Bloomberg’s organization Everytown for Gun Safety.

In the 4-3 decision, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner and three Democrat justices declared that under state law, schools are forbidden “from employing a person who goes armed while on duty in his or her job unless the employee has satisfactorily completed an approved basic peace-officer-training program or has 20 years of experience as a peace officer,” but the three justices dissenting from the majority found that argument entirely unpersuasive.

Writing in dissent of today’s ruling, Justice Sharon Kennedy (a former police officer herself), wrote that the Ohio law cited by the majority only applies to individuals hired for security-related positions, not school staff who volunteer to serve as a last line of defense if and when there’s an active assailant on school grounds.

“Had the General Assembly intended to condition the authority to carry a firearm in a school safety zone on having the basic police training required of peace officers, it could have written the statute that way. It did not, and ‘a court may not rewrite the plain and unambiguous language of a statute under the guise of statutory interpretation.’”

Kennedy went on to note that Ohio statutes generally prohibit the carrying of firearms on school grounds, but that lawmakers created an exception authorizing school boards to provide exceptions for individuals.

Relying on that provision, the school board resolved to give written authorization to people designated by the district’s superintendent to carry firearms on school grounds. Any person—whether a teacher, administrator, custodian, or simply a member of the public—who has been given that written authorization and who carries a firearm in a school safety zone in the Madison Local School District in accordance with that authorization cannot be prosecuted for violating R.C. 2923.122(A) or (B). Importantly, R.C. 2923.122(D)(1)(a) places no other qualification on this exception. Because the statute permits the school board to grant written authorization to any person to carry a firearm on school grounds without imposing any limitation on the school board’s discretion to do so, the analysis should stop there.

In other words, the amount of training doesn’t really matter, as long as the person is lawfully carrying and has the written authorization of the school board itself. Or at least that’s how it should be, but the state Supreme Court chose to selectively look at all of the applicable statutes and impose impossible burdens on school districts that choose to have armed school staff.

Today’s decision impacts not only the Madison schools, but dozens of other districts around the state of Ohio that have adopted similar policies over the last few years. Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, who’s a huge proponent of armed school staff, is bitterly disappointed by the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“It doesn’t surprise me on the ruling today by Justice O’Connor. She is the reason that schools are less safe in Ohio, because of her vote,” he said. “So when there’s another school shooting, it’s gonna be on her and her vote that made the schools less safe, in my opinion.

“There’s not much you can do now. The ruling is final and I am very disappointed. More so with Justice O’Connor,” Jones said.

“She’s a very liberal justice. She always votes with the other three Democrats. She is voted in as a Republican in name only.”

He lamented the involvement and funding of the litigation from the “take-the-guns-back-liberal-people-from-New-York.”

“It’s people from the outside coming in with their big money lawyers and forcing their anti-gun views on the citizens of this community – and winning. I am so disgusted with Justice O’Connor.”

This might not be the last word on the issue, however. There are several bills in the Ohio legislature that would make it explicitly clear that school districts who want to arm school staff don’t have to put them through 728 hours of peace officer training, though the legislation has been on hold while the state Supreme Court was considering the Madison schools case. Now that the justices have issued their decision, expect a new push by Republicans to get at least one of these measures to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk and allow districts to make their own decisions on vetting and training school staffers who’ve volunteered to carry to protect kids in classrooms.