Education

Ohio District’s Armed-Employee Program Struck Down Over Training Requirement

By Mark Walsh — April 01, 2020 3 min read

An Ohio state appellate court has struck down a small school district’s policy of allowing certain staff members to carry concealed weapons in school if they were licensed and underwent 24 hours of “active shooter/killer training.”

The panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the minimal training required under the program of the Madison Local School District conflicted with a state law that requires any special police officer, security guard, or other person who “goes armed while on duty” at a public or private educational institution to complete peace officer training. A state commission currently requires a minimum of 728 hours of training under that law.

The court rejected the school district’s contention that its armed staff members were “approved volunteers” not subject to the state peace officer training requirement.

“The ‘approved volunteer’ designation does not alter the inevitable conclusion that the Madison Local employees are ‘armed while on duty,’” the state court said in its March 30 decision in Gabbard v. Madison Local School District. “Madison Local cannot unilaterally change the training requirements set forth by the General Assembly.”

The 1,500-student Madison Local district in southwest Ohio adopted the armed-employee program after a February 2016 incident when a student stood up in the cafeteria at Madison Junior-Senior High School and fired a gun until he ran out of bullets. Four students were injured, but no one was killed.

The school district argued in court papers that another provision of Ohio law allows people with written authorization from a board of education to possess weapons at school in what otherwise is a “school safety zone.”

The district also emphasized that employees seeking to carry a gun at school had to already have a concealed-carry permit, pass a criminal background check, a mental health evaluation, and be trained specifically for dealing with school shooters.

The district’s policy was challenged in 2018 by five parents of 12 children in the school system, backed by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. By that time, after the deadly February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the idea of arming teachers and other school employees gained new momentum.

A state trial court issued summary judgment for the Madison Local district, but the state appellate court reversed that in the new decision.

“This matter does not call upon the court to decide the wisdom of permitting concealed firearms in a school safety zone,” the majority said. “We recognize that the parties share an urgent desire to make Madison Local as safe as possible.”

But the school district must comply with the peace-officer training statute, the court said.

The dissenting judge said he would uphold the program because the “other person” language in the state law regarding peace officers would apply to positions similar to the “special police officers” and “security guards” specified in the law, such as school resource officers and school security guards, but not to teachers or other school personnel.

Rachel Bloomekatz, a Columbus-based lawyer who helped represent the parents in the case, said in a statement from Everytown Law, that “for good reason, Ohio requires that teachers undergo extensive training before carrying hidden, loaded handguns in classrooms. As the court recognized, the district’s program fails to meet the state’s clear requirements.”

The Madison Local district could not be reached for comment, but several Ohio news outlets reported a statement that said it was continuing its options, including a possible appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.