- By Michael D. Clark
- Lauren Pack Staff Writer
To better save lives, teachers and school employees need lessons about some deadly things, said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones during an unprecedented week of public lobbying of local education boards to arm school employees.
“Anybody who works in a school needs to go through some kind of class to where they know what a gun sounds like … to where they know what a gun looks like,” said Jones during the first week of his free-of-charge, concealed carry weapon training for teachers and other school staffers.
The shooting massacre at a Florida high school two weeks ago re-inflamed debates on how best to protect students and others in the nation’s schools.
“Teachers are being killed when shooters go into these schools,” said Jones, adding that school employees need firearm experience so “they can tell where the bullets are coming from (and) they need to know what bullets can do.”
Through his many national and local media appearances Jones has become one of the country’s most recognizable proponents of allowing those teachers who volunteer – and pass CCW training – to carry or have access to handguns in school.
Unlike Jones’ previous public lobbying of schools for more armed personnel in 2013, done in the weeks following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. during which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adult school staffers, his approach this time is more aggressive.
He used social media to advertise his teacher CCW classes, and his recent messages on Twitter included urging residents to pressure their local school boards for armed teachers.
More than 300 teachers and school staffers have signed up for his recent, highly publicized offer of free CCW training, he said.
“I will supply the (training) personnel and hopefully they (teachers) will know more about guns and save someone’s life,” Jones told this news outlet. “Here is the only alternative you have.
“We have no choice in our society right now. We cannot stop the shootings,” said Jones, but he added, “you also got to make the schools more of a hard target.”
Jones continues to lobby the county’s school officials, saying he has made it easier and cheaper for them.
“If the school boards want to do that, then we do the extra training,” he said.
Board meetings turn into lobbying efforts
Lakota school resident Jeremiah York stepped up the microphone at last week’s meeting of the Lakota school board and cited Jones’ new CCW program for teachers as one of the reasons the board should allow qualified teachers to be armed.
“This must happen and this must happen quickly,” York said. “Since our schools are gun free zones to law abiding citizens, violent criminals are mass murdering our teachers and students around the country.”
He was joined by others backing the idea, but some residents disagreed.
“You don’t stop a forest fire by adding more fuel to it,” Liberty Township resident Aimee Sensing said at the meeting, referencing the idea of injecting more firearms - and possible dangers - into schools aside from those already being carried by school resource officers (SROs).
“I think he (Jones) is doing this for publicity. It’s not something that needs to be put in the public eye like this … I wish the board would make a statement that guns don’t have a place in Lakota Schools.”
The Lakota board took no action but said all new security options are now being considered.
At the Hamilton Board of Education meeting last week, city resident Jim Graham directly challenged board members, telling them he backed Jones’ proposal, saying “I hold you responsible for the safety of my grandchildren at this point.”
“I saw at the recent shooting in Florida where armed folks in the school could have had an impact and lessened the devastation that occurred there,” Graham said.
“I’m an advocate for paid, armed personnel in our (school) buildings … I am an advocate of having teachers that would be willing to assume some of those roles to do that as well. We probably have teachers in our schools that would be willing to do that.”
But Hamilton resident Lucinda Greene disagreed.
“I am not for Sheriff Jones arming our teachers and personnel,” Greene told the board.
She said the current staff of armed SROs and city police officers’ presence are sufficient.
“We see the police are there. You can see it when you pull up in the parking lot,” she said.
Warren County’s Springboro schools have already acted.
Its school board sent out a Feb. 27 memo to Springboro parents about changes made because of the Parkland school shooting.
These include additional police presence, social media monitoring and the elimination of lunchroom visitors.
“The Springboro Schools’ administrative staff is looking to proactively take steps at countering potential threats, in order to ensure improved security measures across our district,” the memo read.
Nearby Franklin Schools saw its board discuss plans to add a police officer to its high school.
Current Ohio law – unless altered by local school boards – limits school personnel to keeping their handguns locked in their cars while on school property.
A small number of Ohio’s 608 public school systems have seen their boards pass resolutions to expand those CCW rights to allow for certified school personnel to carry a holstered handgun or have access to a gun in their school buildings.
The vast majority of schools in Ohio and locally, however, continue to use the traditional strategy of partnerships with local law enforcement to provide armed school resource officers (SROs) who are often police officers or sheriff deputies.
Complicating the recent, heightened public discussions of school security is the reluctance of school – and local police officials – to conduct any public, detailed discussions of building security so as not to reveal school security vulnerabilities to potential attackers.
Moreover, there are 49 public school districts in southwest Ohio alone – and dozens of non-public schools – and many vary widely in regard to the age, configuration and quality of school buildings and level of local district funding available for security measures.
Jones cautioned that his department’s training does not mean teachers will be armed in Butler County Schools soon. That is up to individual school boards to permit.
Lakota board member Lynda O’Connor said complex problems rarely have simple solutions.
“I think we see the impact on our students when they don’t feel safe in an environment. Security isn’t one thing. It’s a multi-layered approach and we’re going to spend a great amount of time and diligence making sure we looked at every option available to us,” said O’Connor.
Fellow board member Todd Parnell said, “this is a very emotional and contentious issue.”
“I don’t believe flooding schools with guns is a good idea, however, I don’t think we should prevent highly qualified (arms training) educators from carrying (CCW) if they want to do so,” said Parnell.
“We owe it to the community to look at every option,” he said.