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Ohio Supreme Court Weighs How Much Firearms Training Armed Teachers Need

gun in holster
Eric Gay
Associated Press

Does carrying a gun make a teacher a security officer, or just a teacher who happens to be carrying a gun? Ohio Supreme Court justices on Tuesday focused on that singular question in hearing arguments for and against arming school staff.

The case in front of the court, "Erin G. Gabbard, et al. vs. Madison Local School District Board of Education, et al.," was filed by Madison parents in 2018 after the school board approved arming school employees.

The parents argued the training requirements approved by the board – the eight hours that are part of a concealed carry permit certification in Ohio, plus the 26-hour FASTER training created by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation – violated state law.

According to O.R.C. 109.78 (D), no school “shall employ a person as a special police officer, security guard or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty” unless they have completed the state’s peace officer training or served 20 years as an officer. The peace officer training provided by the state requires more than 700 hours of instruction.

The court’s three Democrats appeared to view Madison’s policy as a violation of that law, and three of the four Republicans appeared to agree with the school board’s training requirements. The fourth Republican, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, had some tough questions for the school board’s attorney, Matthew C. Blickensderfer.

“So, you can have someone who has had the peace officer training, a security guard or special officer or resource officer, that has all the training we’re talking about, correct?” O’Connor asked.

“Correct,” Blickensderfer replied.

“And then you could have an algebra teacher in [Butler] County that had 24 hours of active shooter training and they could all be operating simultaneously in the event that there’s a threat in the school?” O’Connor asked.

“That is correct, Chief Justice O’Connor,” Blickensderfer said. “The algebra teacher who is armed, the goal is for that person never, ever, ever to have to use that weapon. Whereas, the school resource officer or the security guard, that’s the entirety of that person’s job.”

Republican Justice Patrick DeWine honed in on the phrase in the law, “or other person in which such person goes armed while on duty,” and whether that applies to staff carrying firearms while at school primarily for other duties.

“If you look at the statute, an algebra teacher is not someone who is in a position that goes armed while on duty, is it?” DeWine asked

“I fully agree with that, Justice DeWine,” Blickensderfer said.

Supporters of Madison’s armed teacher policy, after arguing O.R.C. 109.78 (D) did not apply to armed teachers, referred instead to O.R.C. 2923.122 (D)(1)(a), which prohibits carrying firearms on school grounds except with written authorization from school boards.

Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy emphasized the authority given to school boards under O.R.C 2923.122.

“[School boards] establish the policies and the additional training mechanisms,” Kennedy said. “You’re not changing their role. You’re not a security officer. They are just a concealed carry permit holder that now is not subject to a criminal charge because the school board has authorized this permit holder with additional training to bring their gun into the school.”

Blickensderfer agreed with that interpretation, though nothing in the law Kennedy referred to requires school boards to add any more training or rules beyond classes for a concealed carry permit.

O’Connor sought to steer the questioning back towards O.R.C. 109.78. “Well, counsel, for what purpose are you allowed to bring your gun into the building?” O’Connor asked.

“The purpose, as has been discussed, is to provide—” Blickensderfer said.

“Is to provide security,” O’Connor interjected.

“A backdrop in the event of an active shooter situation or something like that,” Blickensderfer said.

“To provide security to the building and its occupants,” O’Connor said.

“Yes, absolutely Chief Justice O’Connor,” Blickensderfer said.

The Ohio Senate approved a bill in November that would have exempted teachers from peace officer training, but it died in the House.

If the Ohio Supreme Court finds that school staff carrying firearms while at work falls under the same category as a person who is armed while on duty, then teachers who want to carry a gun will all need hundreds of hours of peace officer training. It’s unlikely any school will have the resources to pay for it. An appeals court already ruled in favor of that reading of the law.

It’s not clear how many districts in Ohio have elected to use the FASTER training and arm staff, but the program has been around since 2013.