OPINION: While Ohio House Bill 99 may aim to protect students and promote safety, it creates inherent dangers

OPINION: While Ohio House Bill 99 may aim to protect students and promote safety, it creates inherent dangers

Ari Collins
eSomethin staff

Ohio teachers can become licensed to carry a gun onto their campus faster than they can renew their licenses to teach.

Ohio’s Department of Education requires 180 hours of extra training to renew a teaching license in Ohio, which teachers have to complete every five years. In contrast, Ohio’s legislature has passed House Bill 99 (HB99), which allows teachers to carry firearms on campus with just 24 hours of training, despite an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2021 that stated armed teachers would need 700 hours of training.

HB99, sponsored by Ohio representative Thomas Hall, was passed by Governor DeWine and enforced in September of 2022. Although enforced last year, many school districts in Ohio are just now making their decisions regarding the law.

The law requires the Ohio Mobile Training Team (OMTT) to develop and provide a set curriculum that will permit and qualify school employees to enter the school-manufactured “safety zones” while possessing firearms.

While this law does require the state to provide curriculum to those who might carry, it does not require schools to utilize these training systems; the law gives district boards the choice to do so.

Now, any school district in Ohio can adopt these set training procedures to allow employees to “convey deadly weapons or dangerous ordnance into a school safety zone” without the basic peace officer training previously required.

Initially, according to the Ohio Attorney General, becoming a peace officer required criminal background checks, physical fitness assessments and at least 740 hours of basic training at an academy.

This law, however, should a district choose to enact it, allows school employees to have the same right—to carry a firearm onto the school’s campus—as trained peace officers, without the equivalent training. Legislation about “deadly weapons” should not entertain the idea of a training exemption; this bill innately seems to accept and encourage it.

According to a 2023 report on “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” for the year 2022, the average number of school shootings with casualties has increased. “In 2021-2022, the number of school shootings with casualties (188) was more than twice as high as the next highest number of documented shootings (93), which was documented the year before,” the report states.

For the past two school years, school shootings have been at record-high counts, and the upward pattern does not seem to plateau. The United States continues to experience mass shootings, surpassing 550 mass shootings this year already; as of September, schools in America have been the victim to 271 of the documented shootings in the calendar year.

Although 23 districts in Ohio have implemented the bill, most districts oppose it. For example, Toledo Public Schools (TPS) released a resolution which primarily states that arming teachers increases the risk of students using weapons on school property.

In addition to the increased risk of students possessing weapons, many, including police officers themselves, worry about the lack of training for other reasons.

Even the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Ohio’s largest police union, released statements opposing the bill stating that the training is not standard or adequate. Michael S. Weinman, a retired Columbus police officer, testified on behalf of the FOP and explained that expecting armed teachers to act and have the responsibilities of officers in these situations with vastly different training is not logical.

If Ohio wants to arm teachers, those teachers should have the same standards as police. Our legislators should not be giving school employees a pass or exemption from required safety procedures.

Training and the OMTT

Although the bill does require individuals around 24 hours of training with the Ohio Mobile Training Team—twenty with a handgun and up to five hours with any other type of firearm—the training system may not be adequate.

The Ohio Mobile Training Team is an organization created specifically for carrying out the training described in this bill. The basic requirements to become an officer on the OMTT are limited: be a police officer or a veteran. The responsibilities of the OMTT may not actually correspond with the training received in these professions.

For example, training officers are required to instruct teachers how to perform emergency medical treatment but are not required to have certifications to perform this treatment. It is possible that police officers and veterans will be given jobs they are, respectfully, not extremely qualified for.

Even if the officers had different, more specialized training, how can one team provide the same, or even remotely adequate training to different regions when the regions are vastly different in size? How will these training teams pay the same amount of attention to each district in Ohio that wants to adopt these principles?

For training across the state, Ohio legislators have divided districts into regions. However, these zones are not split evenly, which increases a chance for inequity. For example, the first training region includes 13 Ohio counties, including Wood and Lucas, while training region three consists of only Cuyahoga county.

There are 3,136 schools in Ohio divided into 615 districts. Training region two contains 42 of those districts and region four houses 17. However, 108 of these districts are within Cuyahoga county, and 120 districts exist in the 13 counties divided into training region one.

Ohio’s gun regulations may impose more issues if firearms are brought into schools

Requirements to obtain a concealed-carry permit (CCW) are very straight-forward. In Ohio, individuals interested in purchasing a gun need to meet few criteria to complete the transaction. No special license is needed, so long as the customer is over the age of 18 (or 21 if purchasnig of a handgun).

Open carry is legal in Ohio, but gun owners can choose to apply for a CCW. This requires a six-hour online class, in addition to other criteria to receive the permit: being a legal adult, no significant history of mental illness, no standing restraint or protective orders, no felony convictions, and no convictions as a known user or distributor of illegal drugs.

High school students, specifically seniors who are of age, may be able to purchase guns and obtain permits. It is also common, in this area, that students participate in hunting season as a hobby. In this case, students who choose to obtain permits may have the same or even more tactical training than armed teachers, hypothetically.

This bill requires, if a district chooses to use it, a list of armed teachers or employees to be publicly posted. There is no doubt that this factor alone can cause danger. This disclosure will allow any person to become aware of a weapon’s location and owner.

HB99 in Perrysburg

Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler says that “there has been some discussion in various committees by board members and, at this time, I don’t think there is an interest, in this current board, in moving forward with arming staff.”

“The way that that would happen in Perrysburg is, a Board of Education—so the community elects five school board members, and then those five board members would vote to implement that policy and then authorize that training to take place,” he said.

Hosler does not think that there is a need for arming staff in the Perrysburg School district.

“I think for me, the things that you’d have to consider is—officers who train and are in constant training with how to handle and use a firearm is part of their job. They spend a lot of time practicing that and their lives depend on it,” Hosler said.

Teachers are not trained to be law-enforcement officers, and this bill does not change that.

“They don’t go through that same training, they aren’t in those kind of stressful situations or training continually in those stressful situations to respond with a weapon like that. That is a concern of mine…one of the reasons why I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of doing that,” Hosler said.

Hosler poses interesting questions: “When do you draw it? What responsibilities do you have as an employee, or as a school district, if you do draw that weapon and something goes wrong?”

“We know that when policemen are in firefights and gunfights, that the number of rounds that actually hit the target is actually very, very small…Even with all the practice and everything they do, they’re oftentimes not able to hit the mark. In a school setting, someone who isn’t trained, who isn’t waking up every day thinking about, you know, how [they’re] going to handle the situation—put that person in a crowded hallway and alarms going off and kids screaming and them having to draw a gun and having to shoot. I worry about that responsibility and where those bullets might go.”

Tom Hosler

Perrysburg Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Ray Pohlman said, “I don’t think we need to arm teachers.”

Pohlman is not aware of any school in the area that has adopted the bill’s contents completely. He says that it might be a matter of location which explains a possible reason for the bill’s appeal. Schools in the Perrysburg district are very close to the local police station. Pohlman said that there might be a bigger need “if you live in a rural area [because] you might be fifteen [or] twenty minutes away from police responders.”

“What disturbs me about the bill is the training time,” he said. “They cut it down from 700 hours to 24 hours. You wanna take a weapon like that and put it in someone’s hand with 24 hours of training?”

Pohlman points out the fact that, no matter how much training one has, they may react differently in every situation. Essentially, cutting down the training time all-together creates bigger risks.

He also mentions that when the police arrive on campus—in the event of an active shooter—they are looking for a perpetrator. If an armed teacher is holding their weapon there could easily be a misunderstanding when the police enter the building. “You [a teacher] could be the first one shot,” he said.

Sue Larimer, another board member, seems to agree.

“If you ask me if I am in favor of the school staff having armed personnel, I’m saddle sore from sitting on the fence,” she explains. “The last class that I had was a fourth grade class. I was in a very small room, 28 students…there were no windows. There was no exit other than a tiny door.”

Larimer said that the back of her previous classroom had a walk-in closet, which is where she would have felt safe taking her students in an active-shooter situation. Though she expressed interest in the possibility of arming school personnel, “just to have known that me and my kids would have had a fighting chance,” she said she does not agree with the proposals within HB99.

Larimer explained that she did have a CCW permit. She shared openness to being armed in a school setting, but she explains that there would still be discomfort, even with her training, due to unaddressed issues within the bill. For example, the bill does not address gun storage or liability.

If the armed teacher shot two bullets “and the second bullet ricochets and hits someone else—what if the gun misfires and hits someone else? What is the liability?” Larimer argues that if schools want to arm their employees, there should be real, tactical training involved to further ensure less risk.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” is a well-known phrase used by many, but Larimer explains that it is not as universal as it may seem.

“Putting this in a school throws a lot more into consideration. In your home? Sure, get your CCW and know your laws. To bring it into a school, there are so many parameters,” Larimer said.

Dr. Lori Reffert, also a Perrysburg BOE member, says that in the traditional peace office training, “officers are taught how to suppress psychological changes that happen during a high-stress, traumatic event.”

She said that she heard about why representative Hall sponsored the bill: “He refers to when his father, an SRO who responded to a school shooting in his building, Madison Junior-Senior high school, in 2016.”

Hall stated publicly that his dad chased the student who shot two of their classmates. “In these situations, seconds matter,” he said. “My dad responded to the school shooting in Madison in seven seconds.”

However, Hall’s father, Kent Hall, was trained as a resource officer when the original training was still required. “His dad was able to do that because he was trained as an SRO and participated in the 700+ hours needed to be [an SRO],” Reffert said.

“Arming educators is not a solution to gun violence,” says Reffert. “Educators did not decide to go into the profession to become law enforcement personnel.”

Arming school employees without the proper training—the initial peace officer training that was established decades ago—brings dozens of issues and safety concerns to the surface.

Teachers need hundreds, almost thousands, of hours of additional training, in their own expertise, throughout their careers. It is a teacher’s job to teach, not to carry weapons to defend lives; Ohio legislators should not equate those jobs: if they want to, the training should be held to the same standard.

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Hey there! I’m Ari Collins (she/her/they), a PHS senior—I’m excited for my fourth and final year on staff. I am involved in Art Club, Photo Club and GSA. I am also a Young Artists at Work (YAAW) alumna, peer educator, and I enjoy reading, painting and, of course, writing. #SeniorRah!
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