On July 12, the Ohio Attorney General’s (OAG) office released an opinion that responded to a request for legal advice from the Cuyahoga County prosecutor on the issue of arming school staff. The request asked OAG to interpret and apply two separate statutes in relation to a district’s desire to allow its Supervisor of Safety and Security to legally possess and carry a firearm on school property when performing its duties.

In its opinion, OAG summarized the requirements of the two statutes as follows:

  1. No individual shall be employed by a public or private educational institution as a special police officer, a security guard, or in another similar security position in which the individual goes armed on duty unless the individual has received a certificate of having satisfactorily completed an approved basic peace officer training program, or the person has completed 20 years of active duty as a police officer. R.C. 109.78(D); and
  2. Any person who is not employed, by a public or private educational institution, as a special police officer or security guard, or in a similar security position in which the individual goes armed on duty, may convey a deadly weapon into a school safety zone or possess a deadly weapon in that area on the basis of the written authorization of the board or governing body of the institution so long as the conveyance or possession is in compliance with the authorization afforded by the board or governing body. R.C. 2923.122(D)(1)(a).

OAG opined that the application of the two statutes turned on whether the individual involved is employed by the district as a special police officer or a security guard, or in a similar security position in which the individual goes armed while on duty.

"The question of whether the employee may be armed while on duty is the salient point raised by your inquiry. The nature of the position, however, is subject to interpretation based not only on its title, but, more tellingly, on the duties and responsibilities assigned thereto. Such determinations in particular situations may be based upon countless factual permutations, and are not appropriate matters for determination as part of the opinion-rendering function of the attorney general," the opinion states.

OAG’s opinion follows a decision from earlier this year where the Butler County Court of Common Pleas was asked to render an opinion on a similar issue. In that opinion, Gabbard v. Madison Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., the court found that the school employees authorized by the board of education to carry firearms on school premises were not under the training requirements set forth in RC 109.18(D) because they were not employed by the district in a security capacity. The decision was appealed to Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals in March.

On July 11, OAG filed an amicus brief in the appeal, reiterated its position and argued that RC 109.78(D)’s training requirements apply only to school employees hired to serve in a role comparable to that of a security guard or police officer and that the statute does not apply to other employees authorized to carry a firearm under RC 2923.122(D)(1)(a).

OSBA will monitor the Gabbard case and will continue to provide updates as they become available. If you have questions in the meantime, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services or your district’s attorney.

Posted by Sara C. Clark on 8/2/2019