Judge stops Cincinnati-area school district from arming staff

Judge stops Cincinnati-area school district from arming staff
A Cincinnati-area school district has lost its right to arm teachers and other staff members with guns, at least for now, a judge ruled. The decision comes on the eve of oral arguments at the Ohio Supreme Court over the policy Butler County’s Madison City Schools approved in the wake of a school shooting nearly four years ago. (Source: FOX19 NOW/file)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Cincinnati-area school district has lost its right to arm teachers and other staff members in a decision that comes just before their controversial policy goes before the Ohio Supreme Court.

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 with 728 hours first.

Madison City Schools passed a policy requiring 26 hours that has been under legal challenge that will continue Tuesday morning before the Ohio Supreme Court.

A second lawsuit, filed in 2019, challenged the way the school district decided which staff members could take guns in the classroom.

The plaintiffs are parent Sandra Ison whose child attends a school in the Madison district; Clermont County resident James Cullen; a grandfather - Billy Ison - whose grandson attends a school; Butler County resident Carolyn Patrick; Grandmother Abby Ison whose grandson attends one of the schools.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Stephens ruled on this second last week, invalidating Madison’s program altogether.

He determined the school board violated open meetings laws when it held private meetings to authorize individuals to carry guns.

The judge also prevented the school board from reinstating the program unless open meetings laws are properly followed.

Reached for comment, Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff said that while the district doesn’t agree with the judge’s decision, they will change their policy to comply with his order and resume arming staff.

She gave us the following statement:

“The number one priority since adopting the Firearms Authorization Policy has been to protect Madison students and staff. The District has been more transparent and sought more input from the Madison community than nearly every school in the State of Ohio that has armed staff members. Yet, a Butler County judge recently found that the Board’s desire to protect its students and staff—and keep confidential critical elements of its Firearms Authorization Policy—failed to adhere with the Open Meetings Act. While we disagree with that decision, the Board believes it complied with the law and does not regret the steps it took to protect Madison students. This is especially true when the District was more transparent about its decision to arm staff members than hundreds of other Ohio school districts that have enacted similar policies.

“We can confirm that in light of this ruling, the District will be changing the procedure for approving individuals. The District does intend to resume the program, but the details of doing so are not yet in place. Rest assured that the resumption of the program will be consistent with the decision from the Court.”

We also reached out to attorneys for the residents who sued in both cases. We only heard back from a spokesman for Everytown Law, which is connected with the first lawsuit to try to halt Madison’s policy over the number of training hours.

“Thanks for reaching out to the Everytown Law attorneys and to Rachel Bloomekatz, Jennifer. We’ll decline the opportunity to weigh in on that separate case at this time, but we appreciate you asking,” responded Adam Sege, spokesman for Everytown Law.

Parents first began suing the district in 2018 to try to stop its policy that permits teachers and other staff to take guns into classrooms.

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

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.

The original 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 they are permitted to take guns into classrooms.

The now-retired Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Pater previously ruled the 26 hours of training required in the district’s policy is enough for school staff.

An Ohio appeals court disagreed and ordered the school district to stop arming teachers without much more training.

The Ohio Supreme Court lifted the ban and allowed staff to carry weapons while the case is pending.

The plaintiffs in that lawsuit 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 Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he was disappointed, but not surprised.

He said he hopes the legalities are resolved quickly so the program can be reinstated before another tragedy occurs.

“When you bring attorneys in from New York City and they have endless money and they pick small school districts, they want to try to break them down. They are going to do everything they can to prevent guns being in schools. They don’t want any of us to have guns - or bullets.

“This is the big, giant push. This has been what it is for the past four years: People from New York City. The teachers have been armed for quite from time in the school system and they are very satisfied with it. I just hope they get this resolved and we don’t have another shooting in the schools and someone dies because trained personnel are not armed.”

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click here to report it. Please include title of story.

Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved.