Special Report: School Safety

Guns in schools? Opinions vary on arming school employees

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JOSHUA A. BICKEL/THISWEEKNEWS
U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi speaks Friday, Jan. 25, at Reynoldsburg High School's Summit campus about new legislation he's introducing that will allow school districts to hire off-duty law enforcement officers as substitute teachers. Their teaching wages would be tax-exempt, Tiberi said.
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In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, schools across the country have scrutizined school safety and arming educators is among the measures being considered.

Per federal law, schools are gun-free zones, but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently suggested that school boards may want to consider arming a staff member to keep students safe from active shooter sitations.

Patricia Frost-Brooks, president of the Ohio Education Association, however, said her group supports increased security for schools, but not necessarily arming teachers.

"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. We are focused on student success and providing quality education to students," she said. "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."

An offer by the Buckeye Firearms Association has drawn a large response, though. The Ohio PAC offered free firearm training for school employees and has had an overwhelming response.

"It's stronger than expected," Buckeye Firearm Association chairman Jim Irvine said of the more than 1,200 that have signed up for training.

The training, provided for free for the first class of 24 by the Buckeye Firearm Founda-tion, is expected to take place after April. Funding is still be sought to providing training for the rest of those interested.

"First of all, the big picture is about the safety and security of our kids, not about guns," Irvine said of the training.

Five steps have been laid out that will be taught in firearms training. According to Irvine, schools must work to spot at-risk students, secure schools, get staff into a mindset of fighting back, teach first aid and arm someone in the building.

Because of the overwhelming response, the association plans to hold a lecture in March that will arm educators with knowledge until they can get through firearm training, Irvine said.

"The mindset is the most important thing. It's something people can take back to their school now," he said.

Tiberi proposal

Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township) recently announced his sponsorship of a bill that would promote the deployment of some guns in schools for increased security -- in the hands of police officers hired as substiture teachers.

Tiberi chose Reynoldsburg High School as the venue to announce his sponsorship of the bill Jan. 25. He said the option could "better protect children by providing highly trained armed officials to be in the school at any given time."

"It was a constituent, a Columbus police officer, who suggested police officers might want to supplement their income with special-duty assignments in the classroom," the 12th Congressional District representative said. "This bill would allow officers to act as substitute teachers, and the income they receive from substitute teaching would be exempt from federal taxation," Tiberi said.

Tiberi said encouraging off-duty law enforcement officials "to assist in educating our students, within the confines of state substitute teaching requirements, provides a deterrent to a possible violent attack."

He said the program would be similar to the air marshals program, which places armed marshal on commercial flights.

"This would not be the be-all, end-all answer for school safety, but it would be another tool for communities to utilize and could be a supplement to the school resource officer program," Tiberi said.

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