Experts say more than 175 school districts in Ohio now have armed staff members

by Chad D. Baus

The Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum is reporting on the growing trend of school districts around Ohio that have authorized teachers and school staff members to carry concealed firearms in classrooms.

From the article:

The next time a person is shot in an Ohio school, it could be at the hands of a teacher allowed to carry a gun.

In a trend that has grown rapidly since the late 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an increasing number of school districts around Ohio have authorized teachers and school staff members to carry concealed firearms in classrooms.

But which schools allow armed teachers, or which teachers volunteer to be armed, across Ohio is not known. Details of the policies are legally allowed to be secret and some districts do little to let the public know such a policy has even been enacted. But expert estimates put the number of districts arming staff members at more than 175, or more than one in four districts in the state.

The article goes on to quote from David Hire, superintendent of Coshocton City Schools, who hopes to have armed staff members in his schools by year end:

“Five years ago we probably wouldn’t have considered it, and even three or two years ago I would still have been saying this is not the direction we want to go, but we’re living in a society where this is becoming almost weekly or every other week where there is some event somewhere around the country.”

Hire said he also got the support of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office before moving ahead with a concealed-carry policy.

The article notes that districts have long been allowed by state law to authorize specific staff members such as teachers, custodians or administrators to carry concealed weapons. Few, if any, districts were known to have done so — until the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, when 20 children and six adults were fatally shot by a gunman in Connecticut.

Following that incident, the Columbus-based Buckeye Firearms Association, which advocates for gun ownership and fewer gun control laws, began more actively promoting the arming of school staff, along with spearheading a training program for school employees who want to carry concealed firearms in schools. The West Union-based Tactical Defense Institute, funded by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, said that it has trained staff members from 175 districts around the state to carry concealed firearms.

As more schools have adopted such measures, district administrators have begun to get more comfortable with the notion of arming school staff, said Hire, who estimates as many as 200 districts in the state have adopted the firearms measures. Hire said he expects that number to continue to grow.

“It has always been the thinking that we don’t need to go in this direction,” Hire said. “But I said I’m so impressed with the quality of the training and what they are learning that I think this is something we need to talk about.”

Training is crucial for armed staff members to be effective, said Joe Eaton, program director for Buckeye Firearms Foundation's FASTER SAves Lives Program.

“All you have to have is a concealed handgun license and permission from the school board,” he is quoted as saying. “But most schools realize that getting additional specialized training on these kind of events is necessary.”

The article notes that there is no official list of which Ohio schools allow school staff to carry concealed weapons.

School districts are required to adopt policies in public school board meetings, but Ohio law gives districts the ability to keep much about arming staff members secret because school security plans aren’t public. That can lead to some schools disclosing their approach, and others staying mum.

The Zanesville City Schools District for example, adopted a concealed firearms policy in a public meeting in June, but at East Muskingum Local Schools, the neighboring district to the east, parents and students are kept in the dark on whether staff members are carrying guns or not.

“As protected by the law, school safety plans are not public record,” Superintendent Jill Sheridan said in an email inquiring as to whether the school district has adopted a policy to arm its staff.

The article notes that some schools pay the salaries of resource officers, but that arming staff members is usually a much cheaper route as existing employees are already being paid to perform their normal duties and typically purchase their own firearms.

Dick Caster, the school safety and security consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association, is quoted as saying arming school staff members is a decision each district has to make based on its own needs and circumstances.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.