Geauga School Districts Opt Out of Arming Teachers

After Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law June 13 that will allow school districts in Ohio to arm employees, multiple area districts have announced they have no plans to arm teachers.

After Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law June 13 that will allow school districts in Ohio to arm employees, multiple area districts have announced they have no plans to arm teachers.

According to a summary from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the bill establishes the Ohio School Safety Crisis Center and the Ohio Mobile Training Team to develop a curriculum and provide instruction and training for individuals to convey deadly weapons and dangerous ordinance in a school safety zone, to expressly exempt such individuals from a peace officer basic training requirement and to require public notice if a board of education or school governing body authorizes persons to go armed in a school.

The bill was subject to intense opposition from private citizens and gun safety groups. With six hearings in the House Criminal Justice Committee and two in the Senate committee for Veterans and Public safety, only 5% of those providing testimony — 19 groups or individuals — were in favor of the bill, while 362 gave opponent testimony.

Additionally, state Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) has come under fire for accusations that it favors a gun training business he owns, which could benefit from the bill’s passage.

The LSC summary says the bill may decrease costs for training, as it requires a maximum of 24 hours for school personnel, versus the minimum 737 hours required for basic peace officer training.

In a letter to parents dated June 16, Kenston Schools Superintendent Nancy Santilli said there are many factors to consider associated with HB 99, including staff training, school liability insurance and changes to school district policy.

“At this time, the topic of arming school personnel in the Kenston Schools under this legislation is not being considered,” said Santilli. “We do not have plans to arm teachers at Kenston.”

Kenston’s Safety Committee continues to collaborate with local safety forces, she said.

“We have a strong working relationship with the Bainbridge Police Department, our Kenston resource officers security detail and the Geauga County Sheriff’s (Office),” said Santilli. “They are critical to our robust and comprehensive district and school building safety plans.”

In an email to Chardon families, Superintendent Michael Hanlon said the topic of arming school personnel in the district under the provisions of the bill is not under consideration by the Chardon Schools Board of Education at this time.

Hanlon cited similar concerns, including training, liability and school policies, as factoring into the decision not to take up the topic at this time.

The district is focused on enhancing its strong working relationship with local law enforcement, he said.

“We value the partnerships we have with these agencies related to school safety planning and response to issues that occur in our schools. Our highly trained first responders are a tremendous asset in keeping our students and staff safe each day,” he said.

Hanlon added the board is committed to providing an opportunity for community feedback on the topic before acting to implement any policy or plan under this legislation and invited the community to reach out to the district with questions.

West Geauga Schools Superintendent Richard Markwardt said he does not intend to ask the board of education to consider arming staff members and does not anticipate a resolution item to that effect.

“Minus such a resolution and corresponding board policy, our present status would continue. West Geauga school employees do not carry firearms,” he said. “We work closely with our local law enforcement agencies and house a full-time police sergeant as our school resource officer when school is in session.”

Berkshire Schools Superintendent John Stoddard said the district has no plans to arm teachers or staff members.

“We have a full-time school resource officer, who is armed for the protection of our students and staff,” he said. “Safety and security of our students and staff continues to be the top priority of this district and we will continue to ensure that priority through the collaborative working relationship with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office and the Village of Burton Police Department, as well as the safety and security features that are part of our new school.”

Linda Smallwood, president of the Cardinal Schools Board of Education, said her district is not currently discussing the bill, but will be scheduling a safety committee meeting with the district’s new superintendent in August and will discuss the pros and cons at that time.

In a phone interview June 16, Santilli said at this time, Kenston’s focus for students is on learning and that’s where it needs to be.

“There are so many variables when you are looking at teachers being armed in the schools,” she said. “We want the teachers’ focus to be teaching and learning in a safe and supportive school environment. Their work needs to be focused on that.”

Valerie Clause contributed to this story.

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