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As schools get prepared to open in Ohio, it is safe to say that the beginning of this school year will be like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic not only greatly affected the last school year but will surely challenge school districts across the Buckeye State as they maneuver and shift to accommodate what are sometimes daily changes in government warnings and decrees. As it stands now, Ohio schools may open in whatever way they decide while recognizing and implementing Ohio Department of Health guidelines as they relate to social distancing and masks. Some have already decided to implement an online, electronic form of class learning for the foreseeable future. Others have done the exact opposite and fully opened for in-person learning with practiced social distancing. Still, others are offering a hybrid solution of both in-person and virtual learning formats.

With the new learning structure comes many questions. Firearm owners may be wondering how these new learning environments will affect their gun rights and responsibilities. The simple answer is there won’t be much that changes, but a review of applicable Ohio laws as they relate to school safety zones and college campuses is probably necessary to avoid confusion.

A Review of Carrying in School Zones

It likely does not even need stating, but remember, firearms are absolutely outlawed in all school zones, but for those vehicle exceptions for license holders and with permission from college campus administrators. This goes for school-sponsored activities as well. That means that only those with valid concealed carry licenses may convey a firearm into a school safety zone.  Furthermore, if doing so, that person must remain in the vehicle with the firearm, or, if leaving the vehicle for any reason, store it out of sight and lock the vehicle while away.

There is absolutely no “open carry” exception for those without licenses. As far as college campuses and places of higher learning are concerned, they are a listed prohibited carry zone unless granted specific authority for persons to carry; otherwise, firearms may be stored out of sight in locked vehicles only. Remember these general rules and you will operate within the confines of the law regardless of the health crisis which, again, may change the learning landscape but not necessarily change the rules much.

Self-Defense in Alternative Classrooms

With all the accommodations being made to “socially distance” school children, you might find yourself in an unfamiliar situation when it comes to our typical “school zone.” For instance, what about buildings which may be utilized as classrooms which are not technically within the school zones like church buildings, annexes, and temporary education centers? Treat them as you would a typical school zone and you will be safe. For all intents and purposes, these locations are no carry zones regardless of your license, as school activities are taking place there, albeit on a temporary basis. You can bet school personnel and, more importantly, law enforcement, will treat them as such.

Classrooms and Carry in the Home Setting

The same goes for places being set-up to handle “Zoom” type classrooms. This is a new concept for many, but it simply refers to the popular media platform used to conduct online, over the internet, webcam-based classes, and meetings. If such a learning environment is established, then treat it like a school zone to be on the safe side. After all, it is being utilized by the school district as an annex of the school even if its location is not near a traditional school building. Some schools have constructed temporary structures to increase potential learning space, some of which will not actually be on the school grounds themselves. They are certainly still to be considered school facilities for carry purposes. While maybe not in the actual school zone of which you may be familiar at your child’s school, they are still absolutely contemplated by the statute as areas off limits to firearms.

You should not worry about at-home learning or virtual classrooms affecting your gun rights in your own home. That would be a huge stretch and an inconceivable infringement upon constitutional rights. Unfortunately, we have certainly seen some government officials dipping a toe in such waters over the last few months! Your home is not a part of the school zone simply because your child is attending classes there. The same can be said for the homes of the teachers. Teacher’s rights do not change, and no further restrictions are placed upon them simply because they are teaching from their home.

Finally, schools utilizing the online learning environment for some or, perhaps, the entire year and not actually using any of the physical school buildings does not change the fact that you still cannot carry firearms within these areas. If you are using school land, playfields, or other resources on school property leave your firearms at home or lock them in your vehicle just as you would if school was being conducted as normal. Carrying of firearms in a school zone, regardless of whether it is being used as such, is always prohibited.

I hope everyone has a great school year.  As always, if you have any further questions gun rights, the Covid-19 pandemic, and how it may affect school zones please call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with me, your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.