WAPAKONETA — Dawn Rankin is a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Wapakoneta Middle School with 30 years of experience teaching and a concealed carry permit. She has extensive training with hand guns and has considered what she would do if Wapakoneta schools voted to have teachers carry firearms in the schools.
“If my district required me to be armed for the protection of my students, I would do what my boss said,” Rankin said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that.”
The subject of arming teachers, and school safety in general, has forced its way back into the forefront of national conversation after the Parkland, Florida school shooting in February. The conversation isn’t just happening in Florida or Washington, D.C. It dominated a meeting between Ohio Rep. Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, and Auglaize County officials March 9.
During that meeting, two school safety options were discussed: state representatives finding a way to funding to provide more School Resource Officers and DARE officers to schools throughout the region and the possibility of arming teachers. Both options present pros and cons law enforcement and school officials said need to be considered.
Should teachers be armed?
“The physical safety and mental peace of mind of my students is my priority,” said Josh Klear, Ottawa-Glandorf High School history and current events teacher.
Klear doesn’t have a black or white view of the conversation though, he said. He understands the protective instinct teachers have toward their students and why some teachers would want to be armed. But there are too many details to consider before he could say if he is for or against arming teachers in the classroom, he said.
“I would say when it comes to trying to stop a shooter, you want all the tools you can have,” said Don Horstman, superintendent of Ottawa-Glandorf schools. “I think you have to be very careful how you would implement [arming teachers]. I’m familiar with the training you have to go through to get your concealed carry and that’s not enough.”
St. Marys Police Chief Jacob Sutton teaches de-escalation and self defense techniques to nurses, police officers and, on occasion, teachers. He said while anyone can be taught how to use and fire a gun, not everyone is taught how to analyze extremely stressful situations, like a school shooting, and act appropriately.
“You don’t know what you’re going to do in that kind of situation,” he said. “Your natural response may be to run. In order to fight you need to be trained.”
Sutton said if school districts decided to arm teachers they should be trained in similar stressful situations so they can begin to learn the PEDA — Perceive, Evaluate, Decide and Act — technique. This teaches them to override their stress to clearly analyze extreme situations and decide the appropriate response, Sutton said.
Another aspect of arming teachers or school staff to consider is adding guns to the school environment. This not only concerns parents and school staff but also affects students as well. Klear has broached the subject with his current events class and said the students were split on the subject.
“Some students feel it would add tension to the classroom environment,” he said. “They feel like everyone has bad days and they’re concerned a gun would be used as a deterrent. The other side trusts the school to put their safety in the hands of someone they can trust.”
Law enforcement officers believe finding funding to provide more School Resource Officers should be explored before considering arming teachers.
“I couldn’t do their job, and now we want them to do our job,” said Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon.
Police officers are already trained to see threats in advance and don’t have to worry about teaching a class full of children at the same time, Solomon said.
Student Resource Officers
Student Resource Officers see themselves as both a deterrent to potential threats and a symbol of inspiration and friendship to the student body.
Ottawa Police Officer Jake Macke is the unofficial SRO for Ottawa-Glandorf schools. He said the department doesn’t have an official SRO, he is listed as school liaison. His duties are the same as SROs in other school districts. He spends between three and six hours a day, maybe more, bouncing between the Ottawa-Glandorf school buildings.
“I can easily spend my entire shift in the school,” Macke said.
Macke walks the halls, making certain the buildings are secure, he interacts with the students and is even present during meetings when a students is being reprimanded to offer advice and input, he said. Macke also gives input on Ottawa-Glandorf schools emergency response plans.
“What I like about Jake coming to the buildings is he talks to the children,” Horstman said. “The kids see a police officer in a positive way.”
Jeff Eisert, SRO for Wapakoneta schools, said he spends all day, every day in the Wapakoneta and Cridersville schools interacting with children and forming positive bonds with them.
“Part of my job is to build a rapport with the kids,” he said. “The kids get to know you and you get to know them.”
“That relationship helps too,” said Wapakoneta Superintendent Keith Horner. “It gives kids another person to talk to.”
The problem with Student Resource Officers is the schools have to find funding to pay the city for their services.
Both Macke and Eisert are responsible for multiple buildings in their districts. Lima schools includes different school buildings and has one officer in each building during the school day, said Nate Garlock, Lima schools safety and security director.
This is why law enforcement officials like Solomon would like to see state legislators find ways to provide funding so schools can have more resource officers so someone is constantly present in each building.
Current Local Student Safety
Ottawa-Glandorf, Wapakoneta and Lima schools all use the similar security measures to keep their staff and students as safe as possible.
All three schools have a single entrance at the front of each school building locked at all times during the school day. Visitors must request access to the buildings before entering, sign in and sign out of the buildings while leaving. The schools also use electronic security systems at building entrances. Any visitors, parents or students wanting access to a school building during the day must call the main office and identify themselves to gain access to the school.
The system used at Ottawa-Glandorf schools is called AIPhone, which links security cameras, the phone system and door locks together allowing school staff members to see and speak to the individual at the school entrances, Horstman said.
At Ottawa-Glandorf, all staff are required to carry school identification cards at all time, Horstman said. Garlock said everyone, including students, are required to wear special school ID cards at all times at Lima City Schools.
Horstman said Ottawa-Glandorf High School will have the front entrance renovated soon so everyone will pass directly through the front office when entering the school.
Ottawa-Glandorf and Lima schools have programs for students who may need mental health care. Ottawa-Glandorf schools councilors work with the Putnam County ADAMHS Board and Pathways Counseling Center in Ottawa to provide counseling for students at no cost, Horstman said.
Garlock said Lima schools created a K-12 threat assessment team, a similar program to Ottawa-Glandorf’s. If a students shows signs of needing help, the assessment board will review their case, providing medical or mental health treatment if needed.
Senate Bill 226 passed through the Ohio Senate a few days ago, moving to the House. The bill would extend the 3-day tax exemption for school supplies that occurs the weekend before school begins in Ohio to an constant exemption, said Riedel. The house chose to add an amendment to the bill, giving local education service centers the ability to add property tax levies to local ballots to generate financing for school safety projects at the districts schools, Riedel said.
Requesting a levy would have to be done by a unanimous vote by every school in the district and the money would only be able to be used for safety upgrades to the schools, hiring mental health or counseling professionals and paying for school resource officers, he said.
If that levy would pass, the state government would take money gathered by the levy and disseminate fair shares of the funding collected to each school depending on their need and the amount of property tax gathered in their school district, Riedel said.
The amendment is bipartisan and is being pushed through under an emergency clause so the funding can make it to the schools as soon as possible, he said.
“This should happen within the next two or three weeks,” Riedel said.
On a federal level, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) has backed H.R. 4909, the Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act.
According to a press release from Latta’s office, the act would provide resources to train teachers, school officials, local law enforcement and students to identify early signs of violence and deal with them before becoming deadly. It would also create a coordinated reporting system and facilitate coordination between school and law enforcement officials.
What else can be done?
“Increasing school security might be a good thing but what does it change,” said Wapakoneta Mayor Tom Stinebaugh. “What is the source of this problem? Is this the new normal we have to accept? Unfortunately it might be.”
Macke said people have lost the ability to respect one another for our differences. Instead of being able to talk about our differences, people are so quick to take offense and slow to forgive. If we could learn to respect one another for our differences, maybe instances of extreme violence will drop.
“I think there has been societal changes,” said Horstman. “There has been a breakdown of traditional family values. We have an amazingly large number of students on medications for mental health conditions and those medications have side effects that cause violent acts.”
Horstman said our society need to stop picking and choosing what parts of the problem we want to change and instead come up with an umbrella solution that focuses on fixing the entire problem. The issue of school safety needs to stop being politicized, he said.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362