Hundreds of Ohio school officials have signed up for the free Armed Teacher Training Program offered in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December.
“There have been over 600 applicants overall, and by now it might be over 600 from Ohio,” Jim Irvine, one of the founders of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, said Wednesday. “We threw it up on a map and (applicants) cover the whole state. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had somebody from each of our 88 counties.”
The Buckeye Firearms Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization that predominantly serves Ohio, reportedly received requests from more than a dozen states regarding its free training offer. Separate gun and defense-related groups in Utah and North Carolina offered similar free training for teachers recently, and also received hundreds of responses.
The idea of whether arming school staff members as a possible solution to school violence is still hotly debated.
“Policy-makers should re-examine the expanded availability of weapons in public places, not add schools to the list,” said Ohio Education Association President Patricia Frost-Brooks. “Instead of arming educators, they can enhance school safety with more counselors, better mental health services and partnering with local police to deter violence in schools.”
Roughly 70 percent of the applicantswere teachers, and there also were administrators, office staff members and guidance counselors.
“There are men and women, from public and private schools, big schools, small schools, the lunch lady, bus driver – the common thread is that they all care about safety,” Irvine said. “These people really care about our kids more than the average person realizes. I guess we always knew about that, but it really comes through in their comments.”
The foundation agreed to fund the first class of 24, including tuition, ammunition and lodging, at a cost of about $1,000 per participant, via private and corporate donations. Irvine said, after that, there will be a need for sponsors.
“We need to put together some serious funding,” he said. “We want to focus on getting one class done excellent first, then review and get feedback from students in class.”
Frost-Brooks was responding to a statement released by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Dec. 19 that urged training for school personnel intended to prevent tragedies such as the one that claimed 28 lives, including 20 children, in Newtown.
“The truth is that, while we train first responders, the real first responders in these tragedies are teachers,” DeWine said. “They’re the ones who are there. They’re the ones that are going to make the life and death decisions. They’re the ones that are going to do what they can do to save lives.”
DeWine said whether to arm teachers should be left to the discretion of individual school boards. According to Ohio Revised Code 2923.122, boards of education can grant written authorization for individuals to carry a gun on to school grounds.
Frost-Brooks said she disagreed that arming school personnel was a solution to school violence, and emphasized that each school district should review its safety plan, train relevant personnel, and make careful decisions on school safety and security measures.
“Teachers and other school employees should not be asked to serve a dual role, armed with concealed weapons to face school intruders as Mr. DeWine suggests,” Frost-Brooks said. “We are focused on student success and providing quality education to students.”
Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson also discussed improving school safety, but not necessarily via firearms.
“We have school resource officers in our buildings right now, not one in every single building 24/7,” said Henderson, noting the strong partnership between the district and the police and sheriff’s department. “But right now, in my opinion, I’m just not in favor of arming educators.”
School resource officers, who often are members of local police departments, are usually the only armed individuals on school grounds. The National Association of School Resource Officers also has come out against the arming of teachers and other school staff members.
The group issued the following statement Dec. 21: “NASRO believes that only a fully-trained law enforcement officer should carry a firearm on school property. In addition, law enforcement officers assigned permanently to schools should receive specialized SRO training as soon as possible.”
Irvine responded to concerns about teachers being armed or the dangers of increasing the amount of guns in schools, saying the aim is to increase training to people who are already in place to keep kids safe.
“Some people say guns aren’t the solution, but when you call 911 you’re calling people with guns to make you safe,” he said. “The idea here is not guns; the idea is safety and security. Anything we can do to lower that body count. That’s what we’re after.”
Irvine said the curriculum and guidelines of the firearms training program offered to teachers, which is slated to be conducted by the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union starting this spring, is still being developed and will be specific to the school environment.
He said the class would include how to deal with active shooters, barricade techniques, as well as medical training to treat those injured.
“People die from gunshots; from bleeding to death,” he said. “In these situations, people can’t get into the building until its cleared. The time line just doesn’t work. They’ll be taught to bandage and about tourniquets — if you went to school more than 10 years ago, the world of tourniquets has changed.”
He said those who have concealed carry permits and teachers already must pass background checks, but there will be additional background checks for participants in this class. They also may need to pass the same test given to law enforcement personnel — some of whom have applied for this class, as well.
Irvine said the bottom line is giving teachers more tools and training.
“Guns are not a solution to every problem, but they can be a tool,” he said.
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