VW Police and Fire Departments conduct an evacuation drill at the Goedde Building. (Photo Submitted)
VW Police and Fire Departments conduct an evacuation drill at the Goedde Building. (Photo Submitted)

Times Bulletin reporter

VAN WERT — Local school districts have been hesitant in taking advantage of a law, signed by Governor Mike DeWine in June, that would allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom.

Under House Bill 99, teachers would only have to undergo no more than 24 hours of training before allowing them to be armed in the classroom.

It’s an issue that has been studied or is being studied by Van Wert, Lincolnview and Crestview school districts.

“I think overwhelmingly House Bill 99 was done quickly,” said Mark Bagley, Van Wert schools superintendent. “Talking to all people involved, including lawyers, it just wasn’t gonna be the best for Van Wert City Schools to arm teachers that quickly, if ever for that matter.”

“We haven’t had discussions about having our staff be armed,” said Jeff Snyder, Lincolnview schools superintendent. “I think it’s because over the last number of years we have continuously looked at our school safety here.”

“Our board is currently exploring that policy, not necessarily to arm employees but to make sure that we take a thorough look at it,” said Kathy Mollenkopf, Crestview schools superintendent. “We’ve had some conversations with Sheriff Riggenbaugh, getting the perspective of law enforcement as they make their decision.”

The hesitancy in adopting a policy where teachers are armed appears to be warranted, given the ramifications if a teacher shoots an innocent student.

“There are a lot of complexities when you start arming staff and because the law was so broad. In our option and the police and the sheriff, more guidelines and that it just wasn’t going to be for Van Wert City Schools as far as at this time to arm teachers or staff,” Bagley said.

“I personally believe that you have to be ready to go to the situation and potentially shoot kids and that’s a whole other part of that OVERSET FOLLOWS:training. As teachers and in my position, we’re here to help kids every day through all kinds of challenges. To work through the mental aspect of quickly, I gotta go from helping kids to shoot a child, there’s a lot more to getting somebody ready to do that,” Snyder said.

“In my mind, I think that if you’re going to carry a weapon, you have to be able to use that weapon and there’s in moments of chaos and confusion where you might have an active threat present and discerning with who’s the threat among students can sometimes be difficult when you have kids moving all about trying to get out of harm’s way so I guess that’s where my point of caution is, is for a staff member to be able to discern who the threat is so I just think we need to explore it completely before we set policy on it,” Mollenkopf said.

Each school district has increased security, adding additional cameras and hiring school resource officers to patrol the buildings. Each district has hosted active shooter training so staff and teachers know what to do in case of an actual incident.

“We work with our safety teams, including our PD and our sheriff and that’s been ongoing, which is great. As they’ve been training throughout our city, we’ve been able to, as a school district, go observe some of the things. We did have a situation where there was a threat that was not really credible but when we called and talked to them (police), they were there in under three minutes,” Bagley said.

“I think the biggest thing we’ve done probably after three years now is that we have a full-time school resource officer that we partner with the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Department and for us, we’re basically at one building, and because we have an armed officer in our building, fully clothed, wearing the uniform every day, we feel at this point having that next step of having more people with guns, or allow consideration of that, we just haven’t had this discussion,” Snyder said.

“We have an SRO who is in our building every day. We have safety plans in place that are enforced. I know that there are some limited resources for our law enforcement as well so a lot of it has to do with response time and the fact that what we try to do at Crestview is we try to layer our security. We have some internal pieces in place to protect us if somebody gets through an exterior door so our classrooms are locked, for example, each with locked classrooms, which is another barrier of protection,” Mollenkopf said.

Crestview schools are slated to have active shooter drills in the spring. It’s part of a rotation between law enforcement and the three local school districts. Lincolnviews schools are planning for drills this summer. Van Wert schools held drills this fall.

One other aspect of school safety is getting students to report other students who may be a threat.

“We’ve also tried to work on ‘see something, say something’ and I really believe from my years as a teacher to a principal to superintendent, our students know a lot and they know a lot through the social media platforms and we’re all trying to be proactive versus reactive and really get them to let us know, you see something, let us know,” Snyder said.

“We talk to kids about if you see something that doesn’t look right, say something to someone and we talk to our staff about the same thing,” Mollenkopf said.