Madison schools wins lawsuit to arm teachers, other staff

Madison schools wins lawsuit to arm teachers, other staff
(Source: Gray News)

HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - A school district in the northern Cincinnati suburbs won a lawsuit Thursday that tried to halt their new policy arming teachers and other staff members.

Ohio law permits school boards to decide whether to allow teachers and other staff to carry guns into school buildings, but state lawmakers have mandated that they be well-trained.

The suit alleged Madison’s policy, passed last year, was illegal because it didn’t ensure school employees would have more than 700 hours of training the suit contends are required before the are permitting to take guns into classrooms.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Pater ruled the 27 hours of training required in the district’s policy is enough for school staff.

“We are grateful for today’s decision upholding the legality of the Madison Local Schools Board policy,” said Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff in a statement to FOX19 NOW.

"The Board respects that the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit might hold different opinions, but hopes that they will pursue other avenues than litigation to effect change in the future. The Board will continue doing what we believe is in the best interest of our community.

"Our primary concern has been and continues to be the safety of our students, and what works for our community may not work for others. While this policy has received a substantial amount of attention, it is just one of many steps that has taken to ensure student safety.

“Madison’s Firearms Authorization Policy permits the Madison Board of Education to authorize up to 10 individuals to carry a concealed weapon onto school property. The Policy is currently in effect. And as the Policy and the Authorization Letter make clear, simply because an individual is authorized to carry on school grounds doesn’t mean that they are required to do so—it is entirely a voluntary decision left to the individual.”

The plaintiffs are Erin Gabbard, Aimee Robson, Dallas Robson, Benjamin Tobey and Benjamin Adams, on behalf of themselves and their children.

They are represented by Gupta Wessler LLC of Columbus, Ohio and the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he hopes other school districts will now allow their teachers to carry.

He also criticized gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund for “trying to force anti-gun views" on a community that adopted the policy in the wake of a 2016 shooting in one of its schools.

Everytown for Gun Safety is a non-profit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence. It was founded in 2014 and is largely financed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also founded the group.

“After reviewing the ruling from the court, it is my opinion that the other side got their butts handed to them, rightfully so,” the sheriff told FOX19 NOW. “Plain and simple, you can’t expect to come in from another part of the state and country and try to force your liberal values on our community. Hopefully, this will give courage to other school boards throughout the country. And this will make our school systems more safe and, bottom line, protect our most precious resource, our children.”

An attorney representing the parents who sued said they were relieved to at least now have access to new information about the school’s policy and they are considering their options for an appeal.

“We’re pleased the court recognized that Madison parents have a right to critical details about the district’s program that the Board had tried to keep secret from parents, like the terms of the policy itself and how it is being implemented. Much of what we learned is that the Board is not following what it told the public," said Rachel Bloomekatz, who serves as co-counsel along with Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety.

“At the same time, we respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, which means that under state law, teachers and other staff can go armed all day, every day at school with Ohio’s kids after having completed as little as eight hours of training -- six of which can be completed online. We’re considering all our options. As Governor DeWine has said, it is clear that teachers should have more than concealed carry training before bringing guns to school.”

Another lawsuit was filed against the school district just one day ago, one alleging officials illegally prevented relatives and friends of students from speaking out against the new policy to arm teachers and other staff members.

This comes as Madison and school districts both locally and nationally struggle to find ways to protect students in the event of a shooting on campus.

The issue came to the forefront again last year after 17 students died in a shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Safety is a particularly sensitive issue in the Madison school district.

A student opened fire three years ago this week, on Feb. 29, 2016, shooting two classmates at Madison’s Junior/Senior High School.

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Other school districts in the Tri-State have passed similar rules allowing teachers to be armed, including Blanchester schools in Clinton County and Williamsburg ones in Clermont County.

Madison Local School Board unanimously passed the measure allowing teachers and other staff to carry guns on campus in April.

At that time, they said in a statement that school staff’s ability to be prepared and equipped to defend and protect students “is essential in creating and preserving a proper learning environment.”

They must receive written permission first from the superintendent and “must be permitted under Ohio law to carry a concealed handgun and must undergo response to active shooter training and re-certify each year prior to being authorized to convey and/or possess deadly weapons” in the school safety zone, the ordinance states.

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