Frontier mum on conceal carry program
NEWPORT– The administration for the Frontier Local school district says they won’t release the number of employees who have applied to carry guns while at school or how many are actually in possession of the weapons.
While there have been arguments that such information would fall under public information under Ohio’s laws, most experts say that it doesn’t–or that it least falls into a gray area not clearly defined. A recent Ohio law says that names of those carrying concealed weapons in schools should not be revealed but does not specifically address whether other information–such as how many employees are approved to do so–should be released.
The Frontier board passed a policy in December that allows employees approved by the superintendent to have concealed weapons in district buildings.
“Each district that has approved this policy is handling it in their own way,” said Dick Caster, safety and security consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association. “Some have publicly said they have armed staff and released specifics on what they’re doing while some districts haven’t said anything.”
Brian Rentsch, superintendent for Frontier Local Schools District, said that releasing the numbers associated with those carrying weapons on school grounds is against the confidentiality portion of the program.
“I will not and cannot divulge that information,” he said.
According to Frontier’s policy, any person designated by the superintendent must be permitted under Ohio law to carry a concealed handgun and must undergo tactical training and re-certify each year prior to being authorized to carry a concealed weapon in a school safety zone. The board of education may also, at its discretion, designate additional school employees and volunteers to possess, store or use weapons, including a concealed weapon. The board does prohibit staff members from possessing, storing, making or using a weapon in a school safety zone without authorization.
The term “weapon” according to the policy, is any object that is intended to be used to inflict serious bodily harm or property damage. Weapons included in the policy are firearms, guns of any type, knives, razors, clubs, electric weapons, metallic knuckles, martial arts weapons, ammunition and explosives.
It is also mentioned in the policy that the superintendent will refer staff who violate the policy to law enforcement regardless of whether that staff member has a concealed carry license.
In 2015, Ohio lawmakers made it impossible for anyone to research concealed-handgun licensees in the state. According to the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, at least 27 states and the District of Columbia ban public release of gun license records, Ohio being one.
“They think if we make (information about armed school employees) public record, an active shooter will research that and then use that to their advantage,” said Dennis Hetzel, executive director for the Ohio Newspaper Association. “There’s this idea that the bad guy will take into account who is carrying their weapon in schools before deciding which classroom to go in. The odds of that happening are slim.”
Hetzel said parents have every right to know who’s protecting their children.
“We tried to fight the law saying concealed carry permits aren’t public record when it happened,” he said. “The parents deserve to know since these are lethal weapons we’re talking about.”
According to Ohio Revised Code 2923.129 Section B, sheriff records concerning the issuance, renewal, suspension or revocation of a concealed handgun license are confidential and are not public records. This went into place on Sept. 29, 2015. In addition, House Bill 48 was passed in December and says that a school board can permit an employee to carry a concealed handgun while school is in session. The bill also says the board keeps the names of employees that are designated to carry guns a secret.
The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police was opposed to House Bill 48 and according to a release, the association is also against making those carrying concealed weapons private.
Hetzel said one of their concerns is having law enforcement respond to a situation and not knowing who in the building is armed.
“There’s a wide latitude for what specific information districts are allowed to release,” said Hetzel. “It should be available for public record because the idea of lightly trained people carrying lethal weapons around children and saying ‘just trust us’ is scary.”
Frontier’s superintendent has said he’s been discussing the policy with local law enforcement.
“As far as talking with the sheriff’s office, they have been with us every step of the way,” said Rentsch. “(Chief Deputy) Mark Warden attended our first board meeting in October when we began discussions with the public and the board.”
Buckeye Firearms Foundation launched a program called FASTER in early 2015 to provide violence response training to teachers and administrators. FASTER stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.
“They have made a three-day training for staff wanting to be armed,” said Caster. “Districts are going very cautiously into this and the staff know the willingness they have to have to go into this. The less publicized, the better.”
According to Caster, active shooting incidences have occurred in more suburban and rural districts rather than city schools, going back to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
“Over the state, we’ve seen more rural districts like Frontier have put this policy into place,” he said. “It isn’t an easy thing for staff members to willingly want to carry their concealed weapon.
Not many staff members want to be taken down by an active shooter. We have just found that the quicker someone gets to the problem, the better.”
FASTER is funded by donations and the classes are provided at no cost to the school districts operating with this program. The program offers a curriculum with more than 26 hours of hands-on training that exceeds the requirements of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.
“The purpose is not to replace police and EMT, but to allow teachers, administrators and other personnel on-site to stop school violence faster,” said Caster.
Although the district has made the decision to keep specifics about their program private, Rentsch said this approval has been beneficial to the district so far.
“As a result of board approval of the conceal for certain individuals,
I have had individuals from the community state they feel good about the board action,” he said.
At a glance
¯The Frontier Local Board of Education put a policy in place Dec. 20 for approved staff members to carry concealed weapons.
¯The staff will only be armed upon approval from Superintendent Brian Rentsch.
¯Ohio Revised Code 2923.129 (B) states sheriff records concerning concealed carries aren’t public record.
¯It is the district’s decision to release any specifics on who is involved in the program.
Source: Ohio School Board Association, Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Superintendent Brian Rentsch.