Michael D. Clark reports:
There has been plenty of talk but little else since Butler County’s sheriff publicly floated the idea of retired cops working as armed substitute teachers.
Still, the man behind the idea remains optimistic. Scott Miller’s positive attitude is borne from painful adversity.
The former Mason Police officer was twice hit by cars during a two-year stretch while on duty, breaking his back and leaving his lower spine mangled and held together by metal. Forced into disability retirement in 2010, Miller recently came up with the novel idea, which has garnered statewide attention, during the days after the Sandy Hook school massacre in December.
In January, Miller approached his former boss, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, with his idea. Soon after, Jones called a press conference to announce his department’s full backing and urged public and private schools in the county to enact the program as allowed by state law.
Districts haven’t had time to consider idea
So far, none of the 10 public school boards in Butler County, nor any private schools or the Butler Tech school board, has voted to adopt the program allowing qualified and armed ex-officers to work as substitute teachers. Some district officials say discussions may be held in coming board meetings. Most school systems’ governing boards say they need more time, since Jones announced the program only Jan. 17.
District officials also say they are reluctant to discuss any school security measures publicly for fear of jeopardizing student safety by pointing out what their schools currently lack.
“I knew schools would move slowly,” said Miller from his Fairfield Township home. “It’s a different concept and will take some time for them to digest, but some school districts will eventually sign on.”
Paul Otten, superintendent of the 9,900-student Fairfield City School District, says his board has not had an opportunity to address the issue. He says the board is expected to include discussion about the idea at its next meeting, Feb. 12.
Randy Oppenheimer, spokesman for Lakota Local School District, Southwest Ohio’s second-largest, says “the board has not taken any action on the sheriff’s plan, (and) I’m not aware of any scheduled vote.” Lakota, he says, is “fairly reluctant to go into a lot of details about the meeting topics” pertaining to security.
Hamilton City School District spokeswoman Joni Copas says “our district has a safety committee that we have reconvened after the Sandy Hook tragedy.” Copas says the committee is “looking at all aspects of school safety and security” and is expected to present recommendations before the end of the current school year.
Sheriff Jones is neither surprised nor discouraged. “It’s a great idea, but I want to take it slow and see how it goes.
“I have had calls from school boards and emails from (school officials) in other states about it, and it has been nothing but positive reaction,” Jones says.
Subbing already to get better grasp of the job
Miller has painfully learned that disappointment can precede any success.
A Mason motorcycle patrolman, Miller was struck by a car in 2008. That accident left him with a broken, surgically repaired back. He returned to duty in 2010 only to be hit again by a car, ending his career and leaving him with metal “pins, screws and hooks at the bottom of my spine” and extensive nerve damage in one leg.
He has to do rehab daily but still misses police work. Seeing a TV news image of a military veteran standing guard – without a firearm – in front of a school in the days after Sandy Hook prompted his idea.
“Being a substitute is revenue-neutral for school districts, and they can have a certified and armed police officer in their schools,” Miller says.
In recent weeks, he has filled in as a substitute – unarmed – for a few days at Fairfield and Lakota schools to familiarize himself with the job, which pays about $75 per day. He is eager to pull double duty as an armed substitute so he can also add to a school’s security.
“We have to do something,” Miller says. “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about not being safe at school, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about maybe never seeing their kid again after sending them off to school.”