Some Ohio school districts have guns at the ready

An estimated 30 Ohio school districts include in their security plans guns that are locked in safes, ready to be used by trained staff in case an active shooter enters school grounds.

Sidney City Schools superintendent John Scheu firmly believes the move to improve security with more weapons, while controversial, is necessary in the wake of the tragic 2012 school shooting in Connecticut.

“Sandy Hook took us to an entirely different level in terms of taking a real serious look at what we are doing system-wide in our seven buildings to provide better security for our staff and for students,” Scheu said. “We decided to be proactive instead of reactive.”

While Sidney has added guns and training, the Springfield City School District has spent $1.6 million on security technology. Much of that went to new door-lock systems and high-definition video cameras. The cameras capture virtually every square inch of all 16 buildings in the district.

Superintendent David Estrop recently granted a tour of the Clark Pre-School building as parents dropped off their kids.

“We had to respond and we are continuing to have to respond, and I do not think it is one of those things where you ever say we have done enough,” Estrop said.

Mandy Crabtree, whose son attends Clark Pre-School, said she supports the move to add the new security.

“You always want to hear that they are making improvements in security, especially nowadays when you know what people are capable of,” she said. “It makes me happy and relieved that they are going to be watching out for my kids.”

Considering all options

The Sidney district examined its options and concluded that measures beyond having armed resource officers in the buildings were needed.

The biggest change comes inside a gun safe, hidden away and known only to the trained staffers whose fingerprints will unlock the door and provide access to a firearm. Scheu said the school board publicly discussed making weapons available to the staff and came away with a decision to be among the first — if not the first — to arm teachers in Ohio.

Unlike other districts that are reluctant to discuss security and firearms, Sidney has publicized it in hopes that word of the extra layer of security will deter anyone from thinking of entering a school with a weapon.

In fact, the district has prominent signs outside each building that proclaim “Deputy Sheriff and First Responder Team Present on Premises.”

Law enforcement experts believe that more than two dozen Ohio school districts have made guns available to teachers in case of an emergency, but the Ohio Department of Education does not track such statistics. The agency’s security expert, Rick Amweg, said that information is contained in school districts’ state-mandated security plans, which are off-limits to the public.

“We do not keep that number,” Amweg said. “We don’t ask that question.”

Sheriff signs on

With the proper training and oversight, the move to place guns in the hands of school personnel has the full support of local law enforcement. Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said he was part of the planning process.

“If you would have asked me 10 or 15 years ago if we would have firearms in school and teachers that are armed, I would have said that is not going to happen,” he said. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The world has changed.”

Response time to the scene of a shooting is a prime concern. According to Lenhart, every 17 seconds after the first shot is fired in a school shooting, another child dies or is seriously hurt.

The training for teachers and staff who have access to firearms in an emergency includes a 16-hour course developed by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Once a month, deputies who work in the schools train as a team with the teachers who volunteered to be weapon certified.

“Ironically as it may seem, I may (regret) saying this, they (teachers) are better shots than some of my deputies,” Lenhart said. “They are very focused. They have the same passion you and I do for protecting kids.”

As positive as the sheriff is about the guns-in-schools-plan, anti-gun advocates are equally opposed. Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Coalition Against Gun Violence, said weapons have no place in schools.

The organization instead supports thorough background checks and tougher child access-prevention laws.

“Sixty-eight percent of school shooters acquire the guns they used from their own homes or from a relative. In Chardon, the attacker got them from his grandfather’s barn,” Thorne said.

Monitoring messages

Rather than arming teachers, the coalition supports another preventative effort that has begun to win acceptance. Student postings to Facebook, Twitter and other sites are scoured for any sign of disruptive behavior. While the practice is not widespread, it appears to be on the verge of becoming big business.

GEO Listing, a Hermosa Beach, California-based company, promotes itself to school districts as a preventative measure “to meet the social and emotional needs of your students.”

CEO Chris Frydrych said social sites are monitored for a combination of words related to certain locations. Staff members alert staff contacts if they find potentially troubling material being posted.

Several school shooters in the plast five years, including T. J. Lane in Chardon, Ohio, made angry and threatening statements on social media before acting. Frydrych said his company most often deals with students grappling with depression or other emotions.

“Our goal is to find a child on the first day they are sad, not to let them string together consecutive bad days and that way they do not become disassociated from their peers,” Frydrych said.

The Buckeye Firearms Foundation, vocal supporters of weapons in schools, is optimistic about the growth of the number of districts putting firearms in the hands of staff. Joe Eaton, program director of the foundation’s FasterSavesLives.org, said his organization began putting together a training program for teachers within a few weeks after Sandy Hook.

Once the organization began offering the free training, it found plenty of interest.

“Since we started this in 2013 we have run over 300 Ohio teachers through it from about 50 districts throughout Ohio,” Eaton said.

Teachers from Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Kentucky also have taken part. Of the 3,000 people who applied to take part in the program, Eaton said 45 percent have their Ohio concealed handgun license and are already carrying a weapon outside of school.

Eaton said the foundation will hold firearms training this summer for six classes, with 24 teachers in each one.

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