Judge: Area school district must stop arming staffers

A Butler County judge has invalidated the Madison Schools armed staff program, ruling the school board violated open meetings laws when it held private meetings to authorize individuals to carry guns.

Last week Judge Greg Stephens agreed the school board acted improperly when it deployed its armed staff program because there was no notice of the meetings held with staff who wanted to arm themselves, the meetings were private and no minutes were taken.

The judge banned arming staff who were approved to carry guns under the current program and has prevented the school board from reinstating the program unless open meetings laws are properly followed.

“It is hereby ordered that the approval of any faculty/staff members to carry firearms, as authorized by the Madison Local School District Board of Education, is invalidated,” Stephens wrote.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2019 by the parents of one of the students injured during the 2016 school shooting and Billy Ison, a grandfather who also sued the school district in federal court over its meeting policies. The federal court dismissed that case last year.

Stephens’ decision comes on the eve of an Ohio Supreme Court oral argument Tuesday on another case challenging the district’s armed staff policy.

Erin Gabbard and a few other parents sued the district in September 2018 seeking an injunction blocking the district from arming teachers and other staff without the training required of law enforcement officials — 728 hours versus the 26 hours the school has in its policy — and a court order requiring disclosure of policies and procedures for arming staff. The policy was instituted after a 2016 shooting at the Junior/Senior High School.

Retired Judge Charles Pater ruled teachers and other staff are not peace officers and therefore do not require police levels of training. The appeals court disagreed and ordered the school district to stop arming teachers without much more involved training. The high court lifted the ban on last August allowing staff to carry weapons while the case is pending.

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