Questions drive most of the decisions Greg Roadruck makes as president of the Orrville school board.
Such as: “How can we put someone between evil and children?”
The solutions sometimes surprise him.
“Are you kidding me? We have to make a decision to put a weapon in the schools?” Roadruck said was his reaction to a recent proposal.
But that’s what he and his four board colleagues did when they agreed to arm Orrville High School science teacher Bill Yerman.
The board unanimously voted Jan. 10 to allow Yerman, a veteran teacher and police officer in nearby Lawrence Township, to carry a concealed firearm in the high school in an effort to protect students from a school shooting like the one that claimed 20 elementary students in Connecticut last month.
In the end, there was only one question that mattered to Roadruck: “If something happens, what am I going to say to parents who ask, ‘What did you do to protect my child?’ ”
Roadruck is licensed to carry a concealed weapon but said he had never dreamed of arming a teacher.
Orrville wasn’t the first district to act in Ohio after the Sandy Hook shootings, but it might be the first to approve arming a teacher.
“The senseless tragedy in Newtown was a tipping point and galvanization for action,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, who opposes arming teachers. “As educators, we have grieved too long and too often — for the children killed, their families and heroic educators. Now more than ever we need to do what is necessary, including enacting stronger laws to prevent gun violence, to make sure every child in our nation’s public schools has a safe and secure learning environment.”
The board of education for Montpelier schools, a small district in northwest Ohio, took action Jan. 9 — the day before Orrville made its decision — to arm janitors. Last month’s shootings fast-tracked an idea that had been considered for months, the Toledo Blade reported.
The Ohio Education Association disagrees with the decision to arm teachers or other employees, but finds common ground with district officials who foster strong relationships with local law enforcement.
Poland schools, near Youngstown, went that route. The district had been talking with township police since the summer about permanently staffing its buildings with an officer. The board voted Monday to move ahead with that plan.
At the Orrville police station, video streams from security cameras at the middle and elementary schools. But school administrators, struggling with budget constraints to hire a resource officer found in many city districts, felt they were missing one security measure.
“We didn’t feel that there was a human component,” Superintendant Jon Ritchie said.
Should something happen, officers would arrive within four to five minutes, he said, and that might be too slow.
“Once the shooter is in there and they see them, it’s probably too late,” Roadruck said. “People could die in those one or two minutes.”
Arming Yerman is a unique situation, Ritchie and Roadruck said. He’s an officer trained to handle a sidearm and less “intimidating” than the average policeman. (Through Ritchie, Yerman said he is declining all media requests for comment or to be photographed.)
About 90 percent of community feedback toward Yerman's role has been supportive, school officials said, but even some supporters have reservations.
“Guns don’t solve everything,” one caller told Roadruck.
“That’s not our goal,” he said. “Our goal is too ensure the students are safe.”
Replying to concerns
Roadruck acknowledges concerns that a gun could be wrestled from Yerman’s possession, which Ritchie says wouldn’t happen.
“Obviously we’ve eliminated that, because it’s on his person,” Ritchie said. “He’s trained like any policeman is to deal with that.”
Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said Yerman’s experience as a trained police officer makes the Orrville decision acceptable. They know when to shoot and when not to shoot.
“If a school [like Orrville] is going to consider something, then it ought to be a police officer,” Hoover said. “Whereas in Montpelier, to ask the janitors to take on that responsibility, who’s going to monitor them?”
She added that it’s usually more rural areas that consider arming school employees.
“It’s the big cities that are saying, ‘No,’ ” Hoover said. “It seems like it’s these little towns that are saying, ‘Gee, we better do something now.’ ”
Ultimately, in a “small community” where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-1, Roadruck said the decision helps him answer that one tough question: “What did you do?”
“I want people to know that it’s OK to make some tough decisions to protect our children.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.