Michael D. Clark reports:
Butler County school days may soon include armed substitute teachers watching over students under a proposal that is the first of its kind in Ohio.
Under the plan announced Thursday by Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, retired police officers could volunteer to be trained to work in schools as substitute teachers – teaching in any of the county’s 10 school districts or private schools.
The idea, which Jones said may be a first in the nation, would put armed, trained veteran police officers in school buildings throughout the county at no more cost than districts now pay – about $75 per day – for substitute teachers.
“I assume every school district in Ohio will be looking at this, if not the nation,” said Jones, who credited retired Mason Police Officer Scott Miller – who joined him at Thursday’s press conference – with the idea.
“It’s two for one and it’s cost effective,” Jones said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he expects many of Ohio’s 614 public school districts and hundreds of private schools to consider it.
“It’s a decision to be made by each local school district but I think some will approach it,” DeWine said. “If I was on a school board I’d think of having someone in that school who was a trained person … who had access to a gun in the school.”
Lakota school parent Wendy Goldfinger likes the idea.
“I’ve heard enough stories in other states where a principal or somebody in a school with a gun stopped a shooting, so I would not be opposed to this,” she said.
But another Lakota school parent, John Trygier, has reservations.
“I don’t know that this is the magic answer,” he said. “What precautions will (substitutes) be taking and what training will they have?”
If approved by Butler County school boards districts, the program could be in place later this school year. Jones said officials at two public districts and one private school have initially agreed to the plan, but he declined to name them.
Ohio schools and most nationwide are designated non-gun zones where firearms are not allowed.
But police officers – even retired – could legally carry firearms while working as substitute teachers. In Ohio, anyone with a college degree can be a substitute instructor with some instructional training and background checks.
The advantage of the plan, Jones said, is that criminals would have no idea whether any school on any particular day might have an armed, substitute teacher who is also a trained police officer. There are dozens of substitute teachers employed by schools in Butler County each school day.
Miller, who was forced into early retirement in 2010 due to injuries on the job, said schools would be safer having trained officers on the premises, rather than trying to train teachers to handle firearms.
“A teacher shouldn’t have to worry about carrying a gun and being in an active shooting. You can do all the training in the world and you still won’t have the experience of seeing someone with a bullet in their head,” said Miller, describing deadly school shootings of recent years.
The idea is the latest and most aggressive move by a Greater Cincinnati school and law enforcement officials in response to last month’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 students and six school workers dead in Newtown, Conn.
Some Southwest Ohio school districts are also formulating plans to increase the presence of armed police officers in their buildings.
Mason schools in Warren County recently installed a program to do visitor background checks at their high school before allowing entry.
In Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati Police-trained school “resource” or armed security officers have offices in 10 schools and most schools have a designated security office where the police can do paperwork.
Lakota Schools spokesman Randy Oppenheimer said his district will discuss the idea with Jones and his staff. “ I don’t know the specific date that will happen but we’re in touch with the sheriff’s office routinely.”
Fairfield Schools Superintendent Paul Otten said “we’ll do our due diligence and see if (Jones’ plan) fits in … we’ll weigh the pros and cons and take it to the board.”
Monroe Schools Superintendent Phil Cagwin said he would prefer to stay with the armed school resource officers now in use. “They know our students, staff, physical building and our community very well.”
Jones has previously garnered national attention previously for a high-profile campaign against illegal immigration in the county.
Meanwhile, Ohio officials in Columbus on Thursday held the first of five planned regional training events meant to help educators spot warning signs and how to prepare for and respond to school shooting situations. Across the state, schools are considering ways to better defend against shooting attacks in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings last month and Chardon High School in northeast Ohio a year ago.
Enquirer reporter Jessica Brown, contributor Sue Kiesewetter and Associated Press contributed.