On June 23, 2021, the Supreme Court of Ohio made the long-awaited ruling in Gabbard v. Madison Local School District Board of Education that teachers and school staff members must meet state peace officer training or experience requirements prior to being permitted to go armed while on duty.
Until Gabbard, Ohio schools had limited guidance related to arming teachers or other school staff members. However, some Ohio districts have passed resolutions in recent years approving teachers and other school staff members to go armed while on duty.
Ohio’s Madison Local School District (the “District) is one such school district whose Board of Education (the “Board”) passed a resolution in 2018 authorizing certain District employees to carry a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance on school property for the welfare and safety of its students. Upon the passing of this resolution, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the Board stating that the resolution did not comply with Ohio law in that it did not require the employees authorized to carry weapons to obtain the required peace officer training or 20 years of active duty as a peace officer as set forth under Ohio Revised Code Section (RC) 109.78(D). Also at issue in the case was interpretation of RC 2923.122(D)(1)(a), which exempts school employees authorized to carry weapons on school property from criminal penalties set forth in RC 2923.122.
In its analysis, the Court focused heavily on the language of RC 109.78, which states that a district shall not employ a person as a “special police officer, security guard, or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty” unless that person has completed a peace officer training program or has 20 years of active duty as a peace officer. The court held in favor of Madison parents and finding that the RC 109.78 language was unambiguous and therefore applicable to school district employees. The Court further held that the phrase “other position in which the person goes armed while on duty” is applicable to school district employees, whether or not being armed is part of their job description as teachers or other staff members and whether or not they volunteer to be armed in addition to their regular job duties.
With this decision, many districts are left wondering about its impact on their operations. If your district has approved arming of staff members, for now those staff members must meet the training or experience requirements in order to be armed while on duty. However, it remains to be seen whether there will be legislative changes dictating different training and experience requirements for school staff members down the road. In the meantime, Districts should adjust practices to comply with the RC 109.78 training or experience requirements.