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Gabbard et al. v. Madison Local School District Board of Education, et al.

3.25.2019

Summary

Everytown Law represents a group of parents in a lawsuit challenging a decision of the Madison Local School District Board of Education, in Butler County, Ohio, to arm school employees with minimal training.

Key Points

  1. Plaintiffs are five concerned parents with a collective 12 children in Madison schools; they filed suit in September 2018 after the Board declined to provide information about its armed staff policy and its plan to manage risks associated with arming staff.

  2. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the district’s armed staff policy as a violation of Ohio Revised Code section 109.79(D), which forbids public schools from employing someone “as a special police officer, security guard, or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty” unless they complete an approved basic peace officer training program or have 20 years’ experience as a peace officer.

  3. The lawsuit also seeks to compel disclosure of public records relating to Madison’s armed staff program, including its policies for evaluating and training armed staff, the rules governing their possession and use of firearms while on school property, and the standards for determining when to revoke their authorization to go armed at school.

After the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, the court consolidated this motion with a trial on the merits and ordered the parties to expedite discovery. Lawyers from Everytown Law deposed eight witnesses from the district, including the Superintendent, the Board President, other Board members, and armed staff. Among other things, discovery confirmed the plaintiffs’ fear that Madison’s armed staff receive only a single long weekend of training, rather than the professional course administered to the state’s peace officers. It also exposed several critical deficiencies in Madison’s armed staff program, including that the district has no written rules of engagement for armed staff and that the Board did not follow the protocol that it communicated to the school community.

Following discovery, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and the defendants moved for a protective order to prevent public disclosure of certain documents and testimony obtained during discovery. The Butler County Court of Common Pleas rejected the defendants’ request to seal the district’s firearms authorization policy and related evidence, but ruled that the psychological evaluations of the armed staff must be sealed. After a hearing, the court on February 28, 2019, granted summary judgment to defendants, ruling that Ohio law only requires eight hours of concealed carry training for staff who carry concealed guns in school. On March 26, 2019, Plaintiffs appealed that ruling to Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals, along with the ruling sealing the psychological evaluations from public access.

On March 30, 2020, Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals ordered the Madison Local School District to halt the program allowing teachers to carry hidden, loaded weapons in classrooms with minimal training.

The Appeals Court found that the relevant state law is “plain and unambiguous” and that school districts cannot employ staff who “go armed while on duty” unless they have completed an approved basic peace officer training program or have 20 years of active duty as a peace officer. The Madison Local School District’s 24-hour training requirement for armed staff fell well short of the rigorous training required under state law (which typically spans over 700 hundred hours), the Appeals Court held, and directed that a permanent injunction must be issued halting the program.

The Madison Local School District appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court in May 2020, which accepted jurisdiction on August 4, 2020.  On August 26, the Ohio Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s ruling, and set an expedited schedule for briefing on the merits.

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