by Susan Tebben, Ohio Capital Journal
The issue of whether or not school districts should be allowed to determine firearms policies and the level of training needed comes down to grammar and the English language, according to attorneys who argued the case before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The state’s highest court heard arguments in a lawsuit regarding a Butler County district’s ability to allow personnel to carry guns on school property.
The focus of the lawsuit became the meaning of one sentence in Ohio law creating conditions on being armed in schools.
“No public or private educational institution, or superintendent of the state highway patrol shall employ a person as a special police officer, security guard, or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty, who has not received a certificate of having completed an approved basic peace officer training program, unless the person has completed 20 years of active duty as a peace officer,” the law states.
The attorney representing the Madison Local School District in Butler County and those who support giving local school districts the freedom to create firearms policies, said picking and choosing parts of that sentence is inappropriate in interpreting it.
To get the full meaning given by the Ohio legislature, attorney Matt Blickensderfer said the sentence must be taken as a whole.
In reading the entire sentence, the court should not interpret the law to say school personnel other than hired police and security are required to receive full training from the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.
“As a matter of ordinary linguistics, (the law) suggests that it’s a security role, not the algebra teacher who’s been authorized to carry a weapon on school property,” Blickensderfer said.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor used her time during the oral arguments to question that logic. O’Connor went back and forth with not only Blickensderfer, but also an attorney from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office who spoke in support of the schools’ abilities to create firearms policies and determine training levels on their own.
The chief justice pondered whether a teacher who is authorized to carry a firearm on school grounds was taking on a new role, as a member of security or safety personnel.
“Theoretically, it would not be necessary to have the algebra teacher armed if you’ve hired personnel to be your safety…backdrop,” O’Connor said.
Blickensderfer acknowledged that Madison schools has a school resource officer, but also said the way Ohio law was written, authorizing the teachers or janitors to carry guns in schools is not done with the idea that the teachers will need to use them.
“The reason we think that…is what the General Assembly has intended is because the algebra teacher who is armed, the goal is for that teacher to never, ever, ever have to use that weapon,” Blickensderfer said. “Whereas the (school resource officer), that’s the entirety of that person’s job.”
Kyser Blakely, representing the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said school personnel “would know their role” in an emergency situation and back off when law enforcement arrived.
“So as soon as they see outside police officers coming on to campus, I guarantee they would defer to them, they would back down slowly, unless they were in that position in which they were the one standing-off,” Blakely said.
Arguing against a school districts ability to dictate authorization and training requirements, attorney Rachel Bloomekatz said the legislature “drew a bright line with its text, its plain language text” that police officer training requirements apply when entering a school with a gun.
“When the legislature has already been clear and has already identified…what triggers that training requirement, it would be improper for this court to add more limitations, to add more qualifying phrases,” Bloomekatz said.
Justice Sharon Kennedy brought a different perspective to the argument in saying those that want the firearms policies really want to create an exemption to a different law on the books.
“A concealed carry permit holder is still prohibited from bringing a firearm in a school,” Kennedy said.
But authorizing some concealed carry permit holders to bring guns goes against that part of Ohio law. So, while the roles of teacher and janitor don’t change, the liability does.
“You’re not changing their role, they’re not a security officer, they’re just a concealed carry permit holder that now is not subject to a criminal charge, because the school board has authorized this permit holder with additional training to bring their gun into the school,” Kennedy said.
Photo: Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center, home of the Ohio Supreme Court