Akron schools reiterates commitment to keep schools free of guns in wake of new legislation

·3 min read
Members of the Akron Public Schools board at a 2022 meeting.
Members of the Akron Public Schools board at a 2022 meeting.

Akron Public Schools is doubling down on its stance that schools should be gun-free zones following a new law in Ohio that makes it easier for schools to arm staff in their buildings.

The school board on Monday passed a resolution and updated three existing weapons-related policies to reiterate that the district will not allow teachers or other staff to be armed at school.

"No amount of training matters," Board President N.J. Akbar said following the votes. "Our schools are not the place for this risky experiment."

The measure, signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Mike DeWine, significantly lowered the number of required training hours for a schools staff member to carry a gun from about 700 hours to 24 — four scenario-based training hours, plus a maximum of 20 hours for first-aid training, history of school shootings and reunification education.

The legislation does not require staff to carry firearms, but allows local school boards to decide whether they want staff to be armed and how much training should be required.

Akron schools were already gun-free zones, but board member Bruce Alexander, who heads the board's committee that reviews policies, said the board wanted to clarify for the public that the legislation wouldn't change anything in Akron.

"The board wants to make sure there is no confusion about the board's position on this topic," he said.

The board waved its usual procedure of three readings of any amendments to a policy before they become official, and with one unanimous vote, changed three policies to reflect that professional staff, support staff and visitors cannot bring guns to school buildings unless they are law enforcement officers.

The debate over keeping kids safe at school — and whether to arm teachers as a solution — became top of mind in the United States once again last month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Akron Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack said in the days following the massacre she hoped adding more guns to the equation wouldn't be the solution.

In an interview last month with the Beacon Journal, she said keeping schools safe is a delicate balance of taking precautions without adding to students' stress and trauma, or making school feel like a prison.

"I want to, and I believe it's the value of our community, to do everything possible to keep our learning environment as focused on learning as possible," Fowler Mack said.

Since she became superintendent last July, Fowler Mack said, the district has reviewed its safety plan, finding that some schools had not consistently followed through on their drills, but that has since been corrected and the plan updated. A search is underway for a new director of safety and security, who will continue to deepen those safety plans, she said.

Akbar said Monday the board was committed to providing a safe environment for students and staff.

"Unfortunately, we cannot control all the external elements that our scholars and staff may experience outside the school building that may contribute to some vulnerabilities," Akbar said. "But this underscores the critical nature of the action that this board just took. Because of this we must emphasize educational spaces should be free of guns.

"Arming our staff will not solve the gun epidemic that we see in this country, which is magnified by the ease to which people can access life-threatening deadly weapons."

A joint statement from the school district, Akbar and four unions representing employees, including the Akron Education Association teachers' union, called for "common-sense solutions to keep schools safe."

The statement, released Tuesday night, said: "We believe that permitting teachers and staff to be armed with weapons would make our schools less safe and increase the vulnerability of our students and staff. Our district's focus is on educating students and shining a light on their greatest expectations and dreams. We only do this by ensuring that our schools remain safe and secure."

The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report. 

Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet. 

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron Public Schools reiterates stance against arming teachers