Over the past few years, thousands of school staff in dozens of school districts across the state of Ohio have undergone background checks and dozens of hours of training in order to lawfully carry a firearm on school grounds, but a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year declared that, in order to be in compliance with current law, any staff member armed on the job must go through the 700+ hours of law enforcement training that certified police officers receive.
That, of course, drastically inhibits the ability of smaller, more rural districts to provide on-campus security in case of an armed attack, which is why Republicans in the Ohio legislature are moving to pass a bill that would specifically allow for volunteer, vetted, and trained school staff members to once again serve as a first line of defense for the students in their care. At a recent hearing of the House Criminal Justice committee, dozens of individuals turned out in both support and opposition to the bill.
Madison Local Schools Superintendent Jeff Staggs was one of the 13 testifying Thursday in support of House Bill 99. Staggs, the former superintendent of Newcomerstown Schools in Tuscarawas County, said that whatever the policy states, any armed staff will go above and beyond any minimum standard. His former school allowed for armed personnel, and he said he was one of those staffers.
“One more day without this program puts the lives of students in danger and that’s unacceptable,” said Staggs. “You can (require a minimum of) 100 hours, I’m going to do 200 hours. … [J]ust like the standards we teach every day, we go above and beyond, we teach above and beyond, and we make our teachers go above and beyond. Standards are just that, a standard. But to excel, and be the best, you must go above and beyond.”
Madison Local Schools was the district that was sued over its policy, with parents opposed to the measure aided by the anti-gun attorneys at Everytown for Gun Safety. The gun control lobby has been actively opposing the new bill as well, along with representatives of teachers unions in the state.
Melissa Cropper, with the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said her organization would rather see more funding allocated to public schools which “would allow more school districts to hire appropriately trained School Resource Officers, without watering down current law.”
“In April, when we previously testified in opposition to HB 99, we identified some simple and common-sense changes that would mitigate the very dangerous risks this legislation poses,” she said. “We are disappointed that the substitute bill did not address a single area of concern, but instead actually made the bill more reckless.”
She said the bill needs to include minimum standards surrounding transparency on if teachers and staff are carrying (not identifying which ones), a program developed by OPOTA and oversight, and psychological testing so parents, teachers, and staff have confidence in the program.
No offense to Cropper, but if we’re going to start subjecting teachers and staff to psychological testing before they’re able to take part in any armed school staff program, why not just test every employee of a school district? I mean, there’ve been plenty of stories of educators in Ohio being accused or convicted of some pretty heinous crimes, while there’s not been a single incident involving any armed teacher or staff member in any Ohio school district, at least that I’m aware of.
I don’t think the teachers union is going to get its way with their proposed amendment, but the legislation is still far from assured of passage. Bill sponsor Rep. Thomas Hall, a Republican from Madison, says he hopes that the measure will soon move from committee to the House floor, but it would be helpful if those parents and teachers who’d like to see armed school staff return to schools contact their lawmakers and urge them to throw their weight behind the bill as well.