An Ohio Senate bill meant to reduce the amount of training needed for school personnel to be armed could be amended to create a “school marshal program” in those schools.
The state Senate committee on Government Oversight and Reform met Tuesday to discuss Senate Bill 317, a bill that was written to exempt school personnel from needing police-level training to be armed in school facilities and at school functions.
The bill was up for a possible vote on Tuesday, but an amendment presented by state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, brought up questions that postponed the vote.
The amendment, Hoagland said, would create a program of trained professionals that would be housed in schools to implement safety plans and eliminate threats.
“(In the program) we’re bringing on people who have a depth of experience, whether through law enforcement or military,” Hoagland said.
In arguing for the amendment, the senator said 16 people would act as trainers for those in schools, to teach them how to professionally keep a school safe. Hoagland also said he wanted to see this implemented to avoid taking away teachers’ focus from students.
“I’d much rather educators be educators,” Hoagland said.
He said the standards for the “school marshals” would meet those given to police officers through the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA), and recertification of those standards would be required quarterly. He did not specify any programs or organizations from which the specific training would come.
The original bill sought to allow teachers and other school personnel to be armed without the more than 152 hours of training that is regulated in existing law.
Because the amendment was presented after those attending the meeting had submitted their testimony, most statements surrounded the original intent of the bill, but recognized the new changes.
“I do applaud the fact that you see this bill is terribly flawed,” said Suzanne Lane, a member of Moms Demand Action.
Sponsor Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp, who is also the chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, mentioned Tuesday the 12th District Court of Appeals decision that ruled Butler County’s Madison Local School District could not create a resolution allowing the arming of school personnel in “school safety zones.”
He called the decision “erroneous,” and said other courts have given differing opinions on the issue.
Several other opponents came to testify against the overall bill on Tuesday, many from the gun violence prevention organization Moms Demand Action, a branch of the national Everytown for Gun Safety. They maintained arguments that the bill would be dangerous for school personnel and students, particular people of color.
“At a time when Ohio lawmakers can and should be focused on how we will send teachers and students back to school safely in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, or how we can create a more equitable society for our black and brown citizens, it is a shame that we are here today instead, discussing legislation that would undoubtedly push us closer to a more dangerous Ohio,” said Usjid Hameed, of the Ohio Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Ohio).
Hameed also brought up a private training program by the Buckeye Firearm Association, FASTER Saves Lives, which is promoted specifically to school districts for defense plans in their facilities. In the program, Hameed said the program teaches school personnel how to deal with potential attackers, including students, while using “religious and ethnic stereotyping” when talking about terrorist attacks and mass shootings.
Coley jumped in after Hameed’s testimony to say he’d reached out to BFA to ask about references to minorities in their training, and the gun lobby denied the existence of any stereotypes. Coley offered to meet with Hameed and BFA to discuss the issue.
“If it’s something they’re blind to, we’ll help open their eyes, if it’s something we’re reading too much into or something, let’s just sit down and talk,” Coley said.
Hameed agreed to the meeting, and said he planned to bring examples of the problematic training materials.
While the school marshal program would be a part of state law if passed, Hoagland said the school districts would be allowed to opt out of the program, but that marshals should be involved in the “planning phase” of any school safety program.
“If they don’t want (the marshal program in their district), then that’s their prerogative,” Hoagland said.
The issue was tabled after questions of estimated cost could not be answered during the committee hearing.
“To be frank, when it comes to the cost, I don’t give a shit how much it’s going to cost, I just care about the safety of the kids,” Hoagland said.
Coley said the bill would be brought up during the next committee meeting.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.