SIDNEY, Ohio — As local school officials and parents debate arming teachers in the wake of a recent Butler County school shooting, a school district near Dayton has been using an outside-the-box strategy for years that some consider middle ground.
Sidney City Schools visitors are informed via posted signs that staff inside the seven Sidney, Ohio school buildings are armed. But what they may not realize is that the 40 members of the district’s armed first responder team don’t carry guns in school at all.
"We just felt that our community was not ready to accept a teacher carrying a gun with them throughout the school day,” Superintendent John Scheu said. “We felt this was a much more conservative and safe approach to implement strategies to protect students and staff."
Handpicked teachers, administrators and custodial staff have access to loaded handguns and bulletproof vests inside Sidney City Schools. But the weapons are locked away in biometric safes — hidden from students and potential active shooters. The only way a teacher can unlock one is with his or her fingerprint, Scheu said.
"When the emergency call goes out, these trained educators spring into action,” Scheu said. “All first responder teams can respond within a matter of seconds versus minutes that the police say they can respond to an emergency."
The school district added the guns, safes and trained response teams in the spring of 2013 — just months after a gunman shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. That mass shooting kicked off the divisive nationwide debate about armed teachers, and a shooting inside a Madison Township school cafeteria this month has reignited that conversation.
In Ohio, it’s up to local school districts to decide whether or not to allow teachers to carry guns.
Supporters say arming faculty members or having armed school resource officers is critical in active shooter situations, where it can sometimes takes minutes or longer to alert first responders of the situation inside. People who oppose the issue say arming teachers creates an added safety risk for the students and puts too much responsibility on faculty. They said it’s not feasible or necessary to put officers in every school.
Joe Eaton, director of FASTER Saves Lives, a nonprofit program that provides firearm and medical triage training free-of-charge to school faculty in Ohio, said few school districts he’s worked with keep guns in safes, like the Sidney School District, because response time isn’t as fast as having a gun with you in an emergency.
"I will be the first one to admit that the response time would be even quicker if teachers carried through the course of the day, but we aren’t to that point yet," Scheu said. "This, in our opinion, is a much more conservative and acceptable approach in our community.
For some, the school district's approach is a compromise between two safety extremes. But others, like School Safety Consultant Ken Trump, believe the only people who should have access to guns in schools are school resource officers.
"Scattering guns throughout a school building in unmanned, supposedly secured 'safes' takes an already bad idea of arming teachers one step further to the point of absurdity,” Trump said.
Scheu said the Sidney City School District has an armed school security officer in each building. He said the district owns about 40 firearms.
The educators who have access to the weapons must attend an intensive 20-hour course with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department, pass annual qualification tests at the firing range and attend trainings throughout the year, Scheu said.