BELLBROOK — The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school board Thursday authorized the first step toward allowing teachers or staff to access firearms to respond to active shooter threats by creating a volunteer armed response team.
“The safety of our community’s children is the only responsibility entrusted to the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district more important than their academic growth,” the board said in a statement. “While our district continues to engage national and local subject matter experts to implement best practices for prevention of an active shooting, we recognize the response time of a trained, capable responder is the single most critical factor in saving lives once a mass casualty event begins.”
“It’s a highly charged topic,” said school board President David Carpenter. “And we see examples where things have gone terribly wrong. We want to be able to find the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”
Candidates for the Volunteer Active Shooter Response Team will have to submit an application, undergo an interview process, pass a background check and mental health screening, complete at least forty hours of training and pass the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy’s live-fire qualification test..
Under the recently passed House Bill 99, the state of Ohio requires a minimum of 24 hours of training for a school employee to carry a gun in a school safety zone. Bellbrook school officials said their 40-hour standard is equivalent to the amount of firearm training required to serve as an armed court officer, bailiff, or probation officer.
The exact details of the plan are yet to be determined, district officials said. The school board voted Thursday to create an “implementation committee” that will make recommendations to the board. The committee will include Bellbrook and Sugarcreek Twp. police, school board members and the superintendent.
Board member Kevin Price said he was strongly in favor of hiring additional School Resource Officers as a deterrent to potential bad actors.
“Every school facility in my opinion should have an SRO if you can fund it,” said Xenia Police Sgt. Lon Etchison, who has a child in Bellbrook Middle School. “Bellbrook should know better than to say, ‘it can be somewhere else.’ ”
No teachers will be permitted to carry firearms on their person in classrooms. Only “highly vetted, highly trained, authorized volunteer staff team members will be able to access firearms to defend the precious lives of our staff and children,” the district said.
Mad River and some other local school districts have policies where trained staff can access guns that are stored in secure safes within the school buildings, in the case of an emergency.
Bellbrook school officials listed a wide array of other safety protocols already in place, including active shooter training, classroom door-lock mechanisms, an electronic visitor management system, several suicide and violence prevention initiatives, and “technology that monitors usage of district devices for warning signs or other threats.”
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools have one school resource officer for the entire district, which has four school buildings grouped around the Feedwire-Upper Bellbrook Road intersection, plus an elementary school about 3 miles away.
Before House Bill 99 passed, Ohio law allowed three categories of people to carry guns in schools: police, hired security, or any other person with written authorization from the board of education to convey deadly weapons. However, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that those armed personnel had to have the same training as a police officer: more than 700 hours, or 20 years of law enforcement experience.
As part of House Bill 99, which goes into effect Monday, armed school personnel must have an annual background check, and school boards that choose to allow armed personnel must notify parents of that decision. Schools aren’t required to arm teachers or staff. The bill says teachers are required to have 24 hours of gun training. Individual districts may insist their personnel get more training, and districts can send personnel elsewhere for training if that instruction meets the state standards.
A few individuals and board members commented at Thursday’s meeting that Bellbrook has particular cause to crack down on potential active shooter threats. Connor Betts, who murdered nine people and wounded 17 others in Dayton’s 2019 Oregon District shooting, was a graduate of Bellbrook High School.
“While those behaviors weren’t demonstrated — at least severely — here is certainly something that you have to be mindful of,” Carpenter said. “Those ‘what ifs.’ ”