Guns in school: ‘We have to be ready in seconds and not minutes’

Intruders beware: An increasing number of teachers and staff are armed in Ohio schools.

Facing the specter of having to respond to school shootings like those at Madison Junior-Senior High School in Butler County and West Liberty-Salem High School in Champaign County, more administrators and school boards are making the decision to put guns in reach of — or concealed on the bodies of — their employees.

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When school gets back in session Monday, each Mad River Local Schools building will have a number of voluntarily trained staff members able to access hidden gun safes concealing firearms, the combinations of which are known exclusively to the individual staff member and the superintendent.

The district, which serves the city of Riverside, is the first in Montgomery County to assemble an “armed and trained response team,” said Superintendent Chad Wyen. But he said the district is part of an emerging trend.

“It’s way more prevalent than people realize,” Wyen said of the district’s decision to arm employees who have undergone Ohio Peace Officer Training. “Sixty-three out of 88 counties in Ohio have a district with a response team.”

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In southwest Ohio, Wyen worked with Sidney City Schools in Shelby County, which adopted a nearly identical plan in 2013, and Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in Brown County, east of Cincinnati.

There, Georgetown Superintendent Chris Burrow oversees staff members who, starting Wednesday when school returns, will have weapons concealed on their bodies. Burrow’s staff follows a path already blazed by Edgewood City Schools in Butler County, which adopted a concealed carry policy in 2013.

Why conceal guns on the body instead of in a safe?

“It’s ultimately about putting people in place to protect the house,” Burrow said. “We hope and pray it would never be us, but at the end of the day, we have to be ready in seconds and not minutes.”

Burrow, Wyen and John Scheu, the Sidney superintendent, each said their boards and administrations decided to be as transparent as possible about the process.

While some intimate details — types and locations of weapons and names of trained staff — are undisclosed as part of each district’s safety plan, the mere fact that students and parents know guns are in the building is more than can be said for other Ohio districts.

“We decided to be transparent,” Burrow said. “We went to training this summer, and there were districts that did not tell their communities.”

In Mad River Local Schools, staff members interviewed to join the volunteer team, then attended one of two courses offering Ohio Peace Officer Training, which is the basic requirement for becoming a police officer. The team also trained at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office gun range.

So far, Wyen said, the response has been positive. He said only one parent has called him opposed to the plan.

Though the Ohio Education Association opposes arming teachers — police officers in schools are “a much better way to go than arming school employees,” the association declared in 2013 — Wyen and Burrow said many teachers in their districts also embraced the new firearm policy.

“We had others that just had a lot of questions, especially people who are hesitant around guns,” Burrow said. “I did have a few staff members who said, ‘I don’t know if I can work here.’”

“We worked through it,” he said. “They weren’t as adamantly opposed as they were before.”

Four years after bringing guns into Sidney City Schools, Scheu said more than 90 percent of the staff who first volunteered have stayed with the program. He said the district has no issue finding educators willing to bear arms.

“As a matter of fact, we have a waiting list.”

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