EAA Chapter 1077 to host educational event

EAA Chapter 1077 to host educational event

Image Credit: Teri Stein

“If I’d known that teachers would be asked to carry guns while I was in college, I’d have rethought my professional choice,” a local teacher said. “Teachers are being asked to do something that police may not be able to do. What makes anyone think that we’d be better at stopping a gunman?”

On June 13 Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio House Bill 99 into law, effectively giving school districts the choice on whether to arm teachers. The law will require 24 hours of training with a firearm to carry one in the classroom. It is a hot-button topic that could affect local school districts in Holmes County.

“School safety is important but tricky,” said Erik Beun, East Holmes superintendent. “The change in legislation is new, and we’re still waiting to see what’s in the details. We’re paying attention to what it all means. Once clearer, we will talk about it in context and make sure the measures we take are about safety.”

The law itself would not require a teacher or individual to train as many hours as a peace officer does. It does require the Ohio School Safety Crisis Center to approve the proper training program. If implemented, school districts also may pay for more training.

“First and foremost, school safety is a number-one priority for our community,” said Eric Jurkovic, West Holmes superintendent, in a joint message with his school board. “Regarding the passage of House Bill 99 and the ability to arm school staff members, as a district we will continue to have conversations with administrators, board members, our school resource officer, the sheriff’s department and local law enforcement to make the decisions that are best for the West Holmes district.

“I believe that we should not rush to make decisions without researching and understanding what is best for our community and looking at every option.”

The law does not require a school district to take any action on arming teachers. Putting it into place inside a school district would require the school board and administration’s approval.

“The safety of students and staff is of utmost importance,” East Holmes School Board President Julia Klink said. “We will continue to discuss and work to provide a safe and secure environment for all staff and students.”

The recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — where 19 children and two teachers were killed — has prompted discussions on the efficacy of arming teachers.

“I don’t think people truly understand what arming school personnel would be like. I also don’t think people know what a day in the life of a teacher is like,” a local teacher said. “We don’t sit at a desk all day. We move, a lot. I can’t even keep track of my cell phone or my water bottle. I wear my keys on a lanyard. I would not do well with a holster. I’m sure I would lose it.

“Giving a teacher permission to carry a gun with minimal training is case in point how teachers are increasingly expected to do more without training or increased compensation. Now teachers must be their own police officer and swat team. I have no problem with an armed school resource officer or other law enforcement being present in a school. These individuals have chosen law enforcement. They are trained, and this is their job. We don’t ask the resource officer to sub or cover for a class. Why do we expect teachers to do the job of the resource officer?”

Chris Franks is a longtime art and video technology teacher in the EH district. This issue is one he has wrestled with.

“I struggle with this topic. Both sides of the debate have the loudest, most obnoxious voices making the most noise, forgetting that their goals are the same: to keep students safe,” Franks said. “With that said, I have my concealed carry license and would support some teachers being armed in schools. I would not want to force an educator to carry if it was something they were uncomfortable with, but I would carry for my district if I was asked to. I am also a parent of four children and would not have a problem with some of their teachers carrying.”

“In my opinion the answer to gun violence is never the addition of more guns. Our society has been trying that method for years, and it clearly isn’t working,” a local elementary teacher said. “From my perspective, adding teachers with guns to the mix has the potential to do so much more harm than good for our students. It introduces several more dangerous variables.”

Along with the quandaries of how the law would play out in any one school district, the topic of liability is one that surfaced again and again.

“What happens when a staff member accidentally shoots a child or another school employee?” one teacher said. “Does the district take that responsibility, or does it fall to that individual? Is there a legal liability for school employees who choose to carry?”

Per a former administrative source, several districts in Tuscarawas County have adopted armed employees.

Several teachers questioned whether colleagues would be informed as to whom was carrying a firearm within the building they work in and whether parents also would be informed.

School safety and its working intricacies have evolved over time. The Columbine school shooting changed the landscape of school safety forever.

“We’ve chosen to do other things to keep kids safe. We’ve taken a layered approach that changes every year. We have security cameras, improved PA systems and communication,” Beun said. “Four years ago we added a deputy at school. They begin and end the day at Hiland, bouncing around in the East Holmes district during the day. All doors are locked, and the staff receives ALICE training (active shooter training) every three years.

“School safety in general is not just about carrying firearms. We want to focus on academics. We want to remove barriers and make kids safe. School safety is important to us, and we will consider in the end what is best.”

“HB99 in my opinion — while I believe was with good intention — is not the right direction to go. With what I have reviewed in the bill, there is not nearly enough training requirements,” said Jason Whitman, head custodian at a local elementary. “As a police officer and police firearms instructor, I do not feel teachers and staff members would have the proper training as outlined in the bill. I feel if a staff member or teacher is a former military or law-enforcement officer, they then would meet the proper requirements to carry, but this is not very common. Instead of arming staff, they should be allocating funds to provide law-enforcement officers for each school.”

East Holmes has been designated as a “Leader in Me” school and has adopted this leadership program, written by Stephen Covey, which teaches “7 Habits to create leadership.”

“Habit one of ‘Leader in Me’ is ‘Be Proactive,’” one local teacher said. “Putting guns into school is being reactive, instead of being proactive and making sure guns never enter. If we have to pat down kids and do a quick backpack check, that’s fine. I don’t care. I don’t want a gun entering the school. But I feel that if we arm teachers, we’ve lost the fight. If we do that, we’ve assumed guns have already entered our schools.”

Ohio House Bill 99 is set to go into effect on Sept. 12.