Local control and parental involvement in schools has become a driving force in the Virginia elections this year, and a variation of that debate has the potential to emerge as a key issue in next year’s elections, particularly in the battleground state of Ohio. In the Buckeye State, however, it’s not gender identify policies, sexual assaults covered up by school boards, or explicit books in middle school libraries that are likely to be the biggest hot button issue. Instead, it’s the issue of armed teachers in schools.
Ohio has several dozen school districts with armed school staff in place, or at least they did until the state Supreme Court ruled that, despite the legislature authorizing funding for training armed school staff, state law does not allow any school district employee from lawfully carrying a firearm unless they’ve had the same 700+ hours of training that a law enforcement officer receives.
I was hopeful that a legislative fix would have been in place by now, but bills modifying current state law stalled out before the state’s General Assembly recessed back at the beginning of summer. Lawmakers are back in Columbus now, though, and Republicans have once again started the process of revising the current law in order to allow local districts to decide for themselves whether armed and trained school staff are appropriate. Last Thursday the House Criminal Justice Committee took up HB 99, and while some minor changes were made to the text of the legislation, at the moment it looks like a strong bill for the school districts hoping to increase the safety of students and staff.
Groups ranging from the Fraternal Order of Police to the Ohio Federation of Teachers spent hours testifying against the legislation, saying the bill was not necessary, but that if it persisted, more training had to be included.
Supporters of the bill said in previous hearings that said more protection was always better, particularly in areas where emergency responders could take more time to get to schools because of their location. But they also said consistent training was an important part of school safety.
Changes to the bill made on Thursday allow a school board to determine the “manner in which the person may convey or possess deadly weapons … in a school safety zone,” along with putting the authority on the school board to increase the amount of training needed to be armed in schools.
In terms of minimum training, the newly-changed bill would require a valid concealed handgun license and “initial training” before school personnel are allowed to bring a gun to school, along with annual additional training. The training standards do not apply to law enforcement officers or school resources officers, who already receive training as part of their work.
The original version of the bill did not specify the minimum training, but the new version requires recommendations from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission on the training required, including 18 hours of “general training” needed to go armed in schools. Two hours of handgun training are also required, according to changes spelled out in committee by state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron.
That two hours of handgun training has to include proper loading and holstering procedures, specific shooting techniques and gun unloading and clearing procedures.
Four hours of “recurring training” are required, but school boards can require more training.
It is on school districts to pay for all trainings they require, according to the bill language.
I don’t think anyone’s shocked or surprised to see a teachers union come out against the legislation, but I’m disappointed that the state’s FOP is so dismissive of the idea of armed school staff. Many of the districts that originally adopted the policy are rural districts that don’t have the money to pay for dedicated school resource officers and don’t have the time to wait 15 minutes or longer for officers to respond if there ever were an attack on a school and the people inside. The trained and vetted school staff in these districts aren’t trying to do the job of police. They’re simply ready in case they need to be the first line of defense against someone intent on doing harm to the students in their care.
Despite the FOP’s objections, it sounds like the bill is making progress, but the gun control lobby is going to do its best to derail the legislation before it can get to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. Everytown for Gun Safety attorneys were involved in the case that led to the state Supreme Court striking down the ability of school districts to train and arm school staff, and now their lobbyists will be working just as hard to try to prevent the policy from being revived in the months ahead.