HIGHLAND CO. — Bright Local Superintendent Ted Downing said Wednesday that he wants to let the public know that some of the school district’s staff members will be armed with guns during the 2016-17 school year.
Downing said the Bright Local Board of Education voted unanimously in support of the policy, partly because of the district’s location in the southern part of Highland County with no nearby law enforcement constantly on duty.
“We have no local law enforcement within an 18-mile radius (of Whiteoak High School) that we know will be on duty full-time during the school day,” Downing said. “There are no issues that we know of, and no reason to suspect there will be, but one of our main duties besides educating children is protecting our students and staff.
“Incidents that seem happen around school districts seem to happen at schools like ours.”
Downing said that after he was hired as superintendent before the start of the 2015-16 school year there were 70 Ohio school districts with armed staff members.
He said he looked into hiring school resource officers, but that would have cost $25,000 to $50,000 per building annually, depending on what law enforcement agency was selected to provide the service.
“That would have been a huge financial burden on our district doing that year after year,” Downing said. “So after many discussions with the school board, they decided it was in the best interest of the district to move forward with arming our staff.”
The superintendent said he would not disclose which staff members would be armed or how many there would be at the high school/middle school or Bright Local Elementary. But he said there would be a minimum of two armed staff members in each building at any given time, and often more.
Before staff members were approved to carry guns in school, Downing said there were numerous requirements they had to meet. He also said it was completely on a volunteer basis and that those armed have to provide their own firearm, ammunition and training, and have a desire to protect the students.
In order to carry a firearm in school, the staff member must have a Concealed Carry Permit. They have to complete a three-day class, or about 30 hours of training, with the Tactical Defense Institute, then they have to hit 93 percent or more of their targets. Downing said law enforcement members are only required to hit 80 percent. He said staff members have also been trained in all sorts of scenarios in the event that some type of incident would happen, had to fire 1,000 rounds during their training, then have to fire 100 rounds a month to remain on the list.
“We feel like we have people very well qualified to take on the responsibility,” Downing said.
The superintendent said signs are being posted on the school buildings informing the public that there are armed staff members.
There have been several other improvements at the Bright Local schools in recent months and more coming, according to Downing.
He said that last year the district implemented ALICE (Alert, Locked Down, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training for all the staff and students.
If parents want to know more about that, Downing said Don Raybold will give a brief presentation and answer any questions at 7 p.m. during open houses next week. The high school open house will be Monday, Aug. 15 with the presentation in the gym. The elementary open house will be Tuesday, Aug. 16 with the presentation in the cafeteria.
The school district will implement an iPad program for all students in grades 7-12 this school year. Downing said that any parent that hasn’t registered their student for the program can do so during the open house.
During fair week, Downing said there will be paving projects taking place at both buildings. The high school will have its entire parking lot paved and the elementary school will have its parking lot sealed with some paving around the bus garage.
Also by fair week, Downing said that all high school rooms that don’t have it will have air-conditioning. He said plans are for air-conditioning to be installed in the high school gym by next spring.
He said the air-conditioning work is being paid for by savings the district realized from installing new LED lighting last year.
“Yes, we are spending money to fix things up, but we’re being financially responsible,” Downing said. “Just like you have to maintain your home, that’s what we’re doing to our buildings to give our kids the best education and opportunities possible.”
There are plans to replace the visitors’ side bleachers in the gym this year and to redo the gym floor by next summer.
“We’re trying to bring our students into the 21st century in terms of technology and bringing our buildings up to date so we’re functioning at a high level,” Downing said. “Academics is our primary goal and I’m excited about what’s going on.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.