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West Branch considers arming its teachers

BELOIT — West Branch schools will talk about arming the district’s teachers.

The discussion is slated for a 6:30 p.m. Thursday board of education meeting at the high school media center, 14277 S. Main St.

The community is invited to share comments or concerns during the public participation portion of the regular board meeting.

The concept of arming teachers has been endorsed in another Ohio school system: Manchester Local Schools near Cincinnati.

The Manchester school board in April voted 4-1 to allow the superintendent to revise the district’s emergency operation plan, which permits the employees to carry weapons on district properties.

Manchester in the next week will be placing warning signs around its buildings, stating that trained staff members can carry firearms on district property.

Last year, that district had 8,830 students.

Manchester schools Superintendent Brian Rau introduced the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns in the spring of 2018, during a board executive session.

“Our police department in Manchester closed,” Rau said. “So the only law enforcement we have is the Adams County sheriff. So, in times of emergency, it could take a deputy anywhere between 20 minutes to 30 minutes to arrive at our schools if the deputies are on the other side to the county.”

Further discussions were held throughout the next year with area stakeholders and members of the general public.

“No district employee is required to participate,” Rau said. “It is completely voluntary, so it does not involve the unions. Those who were interested in participating were required to send the superintendent a letter expressing their interest in carrying a gun on school property.”

From that list, the district selected those it wanted to send for three-day training provided by the Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response, also known as FASTERSavesLives. It is a nonprofit program that funded through the Buckeye Firearms Foundation.

The FASTER program pays for tuition and lodging.

Since 2013, thousands of Ohio educators have applied for this specialized training, according to its website.

“My advice to a school district looking at this is not to rush into it,” Rau said. “Take your time and make sure you understand the perspectives of all the stakeholders in the district by going out and talking to them and giving them feedback. Respect the varying viewpoints.”

The Ohio School Boards Association emphasized it is up to the local school district to determine if it wants to allow employees to carry firearms on school properties.

“Every school district is different,” said Van Keating, an attorney with the OSBA. “What works for one school district may not work for another. Our emphasis is making sure their is local control.”

Keating said Ohio law does not require school districts to reveal their policies and procedures in allowing employees to have weapons in the district.

“School boards are required to pass resolutions that will allow this, but once these resolutions are passed the boards are not involved,” Keating said.

The National Education Association in 2018 released a poll indicating that 74 percent of its members oppose proposals to arm school employees, even if they receive training. Approximately 69 percent of those surveyed stated that allowing school personnel carry firearms in schools would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools.

“Let us be crystal clear and reiterate that our students need fewer guns in schools — not more of them — and bringing guns into our schools does absolutely nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” NEA President Lily Garcia noted at the time of the poll’s release.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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