Twenty-two Ohio school districts and one Christian school have staff members who are either authorized or in the training process to carry weapons on school grounds as of Wednesday, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 99 — which grants local boards of education authority to decide whether to allow their teachers and school workers to carry firearms — into law in June and it went into effect Sept. 12.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re considering arming our staff,” said St. Marys City Schools Superintendent Bill Ruane. “It’s not something I think any administrator, any school board or any teacher wants to be in a position that they’re doing it, but unfortunately … we just kept seeing story after story of a school shooting.”
Three children and three adult staff members were killed at a Nashville private Christian elementary school on Monday. There have been 376 school shootings since Columbine in 1999, according to the Washington Post.
History of the law and staff training
HB 99 created the Ohio School Safety and Crisis Center within the Department of Public Safety and school districts who want their staff to be armed must submit their training plans for approval after their school board approves the request to arm staff.
“We will be helping schools and first responders with developing their programs, if this is something they’re interested in, making sure they know any best practices that are out there,” said Emily Torok, executive director of the Ohio School Safety Center.
The Ohio School Safety Center did grandfather in some school districts that had previous training, as long as the training met the requirements of the law, Torok said.
HB 99 lowered the required training hours for armed personnel from 700 hours to at least 24, but school boards have the authority to mandate more hours.
Ohio school staff have been armed before, but a Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2021 required school employees to undergo 700 hours of training to be armed at school.
The Ohio School Safety and Crisis Center will begin offering training courses for interested districts starting in June, Torok said.
“If somebody has concerns related to the way that a school is conducting security, whether it’s this or anything else, they should talk to their school board,” she said.
The school districts and school that have completed or are currently going through training
Police response time
The four school districts the Ohio Capital Journal spoke with said police response time to a rural schools factored into their decision to arm staff.
“The response time could cost lives,” said Indian Lake Local Schools Superintendent Rob Underwood. “Our philosophy is just pretty simple. We want to be able to react as soon as possible.”
Schools in Rolling Hills Local School District, in Cambridge, are about 15-25 minutes away from law enforcement.
“By the time it’s recognized that something’s wrong, it’s too late,” said Superintendent Devvon Dettra. “And I think schools are just frustrated with having that lack of self protection and this is an option.”
24 hour training is “woefully inadequate.”
Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, called the 24 hour minimum of training required “woefully inadequate.” He opposed HB 99 when in the General Assembly.
“We also just have underlying concerns about putting teachers and other employees in a dual role where they have a primary responsibility of educating children, but then are asked to do this extra thing by carrying a gun into school to essentially serve as a security officer,” he said.
He is glad only a fraction of Ohio school districts have decided to arm staff and within that, he said it’s encouraging to see districts have their staff undergo more than 24 hours of training.
“(24 hours is) just not enough to ensure that this very serious responsibility that we are entrusting to keep our students safe,” DiMauro said.
Indian Lake Local Schools
Indian Lake Local Schools, in Lewistown, has about a dozen staff members armed with firearms on school grounds.
“Our philosophy never was that we wanted to arm a whole bunch of teachers, or that we even felt like teachers were even remotely as qualified as law enforcement personnel,” Underwood said. “Our philosophy has always been … the quicker you counter attack or the quicker you stop the threat, the fewer lives that are lost.”
The rural district, which has just under 1,400 students and a little more than 200 employees, first armed staff members in 2018 after completing 32 hours of initial training through Insight Firearms Training in Lima and eight hours of training in the years following year. Staff were no longer armed after the Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2021.
Their school board has been pretty selective when it comes to choosing who they will arm under the new law, Underwood said.
“We don’t want to have every single person in the building with a firearm by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
West-Liberty-Salem High School, about 30 minutes from Indian Lake Schools, had a school shooting in January 2017 when a 17-year-old student opened fire, critically injuring one person who went on to survive.
“We learned a lot from that situation,” Underwood said. “And at the end of the day, we just believe that it’s a part of our safety plan that helps to keep our kids safe.”
St Marys City Schools
A select number of staff members at St Marys City Schools, in St Marys, is currently going through the training process with St. Marys Police Department so they can be armed on school grounds.
“We just want to be in a position that we are proactive,” Ruane said. “And then also in that situation, if it ever occurred, that we can react quickly and neutralize any situation before mass casualties or mass harm could be done.”
This will be the first time the rural school district, which has about 2,000 students and 300 employees spread across three school buildings, will have staff armed.
St Marys is having some people from each of the district’s three buildings go through the training — which consists of roughly 40 hours of training and the annual training after that. Staff must pass a psychological exam in addition to passing the training.
“We also don’t want to just have the Wild West here,” Ruane said. “We don’t want everyone to be carrying and obviously have guns loose in the school. We want to be very controlled, very selective, so that’s very important to us to have those parameters.”
Knox County Career Center Schools, in Mount Vernon, has staff armed with firearms.
“We have a very extensive safety plan in our district and this is just one small part of it,” said Superintendent Kathy Greenich. “We feel like we should take advantage of anything that is available to use to protect our students and protect our staff.”
Some of their staff completed the Faculty & Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) training in 2018, so they previously had some staff armed until the 2021 Ohio Supreme Court decision.
FASTER is a nonprofit program that “gives educators practical violence response training,” according to their website. The program has more than 26 hours of hands-on training over a 3-day class.
Rolling Hills Schools, a rural school district with 1,700 students and about 240 staff in five buildings, also went through the FASTER training a couple of years before the 2021 Ohio Supreme Court decision. The district decided once again to arm their staff after HB 99 became law.
Superintendent Dettra said he understands people have concerns about arming staff, but he ultimately feels safer knowing that some members of his staff are armed.
“I don’t know of anything that by itself, would supersede this. And it’s just one part of our overall safety plan.”Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.