COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A school district that voted after a deadly shooting to allow employees to be armed argued Tuesday in Ohio’s highest court that they shouldn’t have to first provide police-level training to those workers.
The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both sides in the case involving Madison Local Schools in southwestern Ohio but didn't indicate when it would rule.
The district permitted the arming of its employees after a 2016 shooting in which two students were shot and wounded by a 14-year-old boy. A group of parents sued the district in September 2018 to prevent teachers from being armed without extensive training.
A Butler County judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that school staffers did not need extensive training because they are not law enforcement officers. The district’s policy requires 24 hours of training for staff carrying concealed weapons.
The parents appealed to the 12th District Court of Appeals, which ruled last March that Ohio law requires anyone who carries firearms in schools to have undergone a minimum of 728 hours of law enforcement training.
Parents maintain the state appeals court made the correct decision, saying state law is clear that schools can't hire employees who are armed who don't go through police officer training.
The parents "are concerned about the tragic and fatal accidents that could befall their children when armed school staff have insufficient training and are carrying firearms all day, every day, in their children’s classrooms and on the playground," attorneys for the parents said in an October court filing.
They noted that the parents don't oppose gun rights and that several are, in fact, gun owners.
The district maintains current law doesn't require the extensive training sought by the parents.
If the appeals court ruling is upheld, “no school district can exercise the right to arm its staff unless it turns teachers into police officers, or police officers into teachers,” lawyers for the district argued in a September filing. “This is both entirely impractical and demonstrably wrong as a matter of statutory construction.”
Lawmakers require police training only for officers and left training and qualifications for armed teachers up to school boards, the district lawyers said.
The state Fraternal Order of Police, several gun training and safety experts, and other school districts including Cincinnati and Columbus — Ohio's largest district — filed arguments in support of the parents' position.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican who is the state's top law enforcement official, supports the district.
The law in question “does not apply to employees in non-security positions — like teachers, principals, or other non-security personnel — whose duties are primarily educational or administrative and who do not carry a weapon in their role,” Benjamin Flowers, the Ohio Solicitor General, wrote in a September filing on behalf of Yost.
A Butler County judge ruled Monday that the district's decision to arm specific employees violated Ohio's open meetings law because it used a “screening committee” that first identified staff members interested in carrying weapons at work.
But both the district and the parents suing over the training issue agreed the judge's ruling doesn't affect the issue before the state Supreme Court.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.