In June, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law that allows school employees (faculty and staff) in Ohio to possess a handgun on school grounds. This comes on the heels of a resurgence of mass shootings across our country, most notably the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, and the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that’s been fueling the nationwide gun debate.
Breaking Down the Law
The legislation, known as House Bill 99 (HB 99), requires up to 24 hours of school-specific training prior to an employee becoming armed, up to eight hours of additional yearly training, and an annual criminal background check. All training will be provided by a member of the new Safety and Crisis Division Training Officers, who will focus on teaching faculty and staff how to safely de-escalate situations, promote crisis intervention, supply first aid, understand the psychology of critical incidents, and how to respond to specific scenarios.
Upon successfully completing the training, individuals will need to submit an application to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. However, the ultimate decision of whether or not faculty and staff can carry a firearm on school grounds ultimately comes down to the respective school district’s board. Those same board members are required to inform parents if school employees are permitted to carry and must also keep track of all employees are permitted to carry. That list will not be made public record. “Each school board will determine what is best for their staff, their students, and their communities,” said Gov. DeWine in a press conference.
Gov. DeWine wants to make it clear that the enactment of this law gives faculty and staff the option to carry a firearm. This bill does not make it mandatory.
Gov. DeWine also outlined several other initiatives to improve school safety, including $100 million in funding for grade school security upgrades across the state and $5 million for upgrades at colleges.
What are Local Schools Doing?
Since Gov. DeWine signed the bill into law, he says he has seen several responses from various schools in the state. Some have decided to adopt the legislation while others have not. There are also schools that have not made a decision. In our area, below are some schools that have made a decision.
- Sylvania Schools
There is already a policy in place that prohibits weapons for staff members. Per the policy, those who are in exception are authorized State or Federal agents who are acting within the scope of their duties and or personnel employed by the Board who are qualified under state law to carry a weapon in school while on active duty. “Sylvania Schools remains committed to our longstanding board policy which prohibits staff members from being armed on school grounds,” says Dr. Veronica Motley, superintendent for Sylvania Schools.
- Anthony Wayne Schools
Per a June letter that was sent to all parents across the district, there are currently no plans to adopt the legislation. The letter reads, in part, “… As issues or concerns arise, the district will continue to take a collective and collaborative approach to responding appropriately to ensure the safety of all students.”
- Sylvania Schools
- Toledo Public Schools
According to a resolution that was passed by Toledo Public Schools (TPS) board members in June, the board “does not authorize school employees to carry firearms within the school district”. The only individuals who are authorized to carry a firearm within TPS are Toledo Police Department Officers, certain TPS officers, and other law enforcement personnel.
“It’s simply ridiculous,” says Polly Taylor-Gerken, board member for TPS when asked about her reaction to the passing of HB 99, adding that they are doing a good job in maintaining a safe and secure learning environment for the students.
- Perrysburg Local Schools
During a Board of Education meeting in June, Robin Laird, a Perrysburg citizen took the podium to voice her concern for the new legislation. “The fraternal order of police absolutely opposes this,” she says. I know the Perrysburg Board will do the right thing and the Perrysburg educators need to make this known publicly.”
According to school policy that the school district adopted several years ago, staff members are prohibited from possessing, storing, making, or using a weapon on school grounds. This policy remains in effect. Much like Toledo Public Schools, the only individuals who are authorized to carry a firearm are State or Federal agents authorized to carry deadly weapons who are acting within the scope of their duties.
The policy continues to state that weapons carried by security personnel or other designated staff employed by the Board of Education who are qualified under State law to carry a weapon in a school safety zone while on active duty, are permitted.
- Washington Local Schools
According to school policy, no person shall knowingly possess, have under the person’s control, convey, or attempt to convey a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance into a school safety zone.
“It’s very upsetting to me,” said Karen Mayfield, board member for Washington Local Schools, during a board of education meeting in June. “I do not believe this is a role that I could support and place on the shoulders of our staff,” she adds.
- Ottawa Hills Local Schools
“We [Ottawa Hills Schools] will not be adopting this legislation at this time,” said Dr. Adam Fineske, superintendent, Ottawa Hills Local Schools. Per school policy, The Board of Education prohibits staff members from possessing any type of weapon in a school safety zone.
Diverse Political Opinions
The bill has seen support from republicans and opposition from democrats. Ohio State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D), a Toledo democrat, is one who was quick to voice her frustration to the lawmakers, blatantly telling them, “everyone in this room will have blood on your hands” if there is another active shooter situation.
On the other hand, republicans are citing the 2019 call to action by the public, asking politicians to “do something” to stop these mass shootings, and they feel this legislation does just that. “The thing that has to be done is stop the shooter,” said Republican Senator Terry Johnson. “When people are bleeding, you have to stop the bleeding,” he adds.
The bill was passed by the Senate in a 23-9 vote and passed the House on a 56-34 vote.
HB 99 is the second gun-related legislation passed in Gov. DeWine’s administration. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 215 that removed the requirement of Ohio citizens to obtain a concealed-carry permit to carry a hidden gun.
Funding for safety measures
In addition to HB99, it’s also important to note that Gov. DeWine’s Ohio K-12 School Safety Grant Program provided $47 million in grant funds for security upgrades to 1,183 Ohio schools. Toledo area schools that will receive funding include the following:
- Achieve Career Preparatory Academy
- Anthony Wayne High School
- Anthony Wayne Junior High School
- Fallen Timbers Middle School
- Bowling Green High School
- Crim Elementary School
- Lake Elementary School
- Lake High School
- Lake Middle School
- Ohio Virtual Academy
- Rossford Elementary
- Rossford High School
- Crissey Elementary
- Dorr Street Elementary
- Holland Elementary
- Springfield High School
- Springfield Middle School
- Toledo School for the Arts
- Greenwood Elementary
- Hiawatha Elementary
- Jefferson Junior High School
- McGregor Elementary
- Meadowvale Elementary
- Monac Elementary
- Washington Junior High School
- Whitmer High School