Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine urges training for school personnel faced with shooters


COLUMBUS — If Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine were a school board member, he would “seriously consider” hiring trained ex-police officers, with access to guns, to work security in schools.

But Mr. DeWine stressed on Wednesday that is not his decision to make.

“You’d have to be very careful about it,” he said. “I’m not saying everyone in school should be armed, but someone who knows exactly what they are doing, who has that gun under lock and key, and who can get to it instantly, that’s something I would at least debate and talk about in the school.”

In the wake of Friday’s killings of 26 students, teachers, and administrators at a Connecticut elementary school by a disturbed gunman, the Republican attorney general joined with the Ohio Department of Education and a variety of school and law enforcement organizations to announce the expansion of training normally meant for law enforcement to teachers and school administrators.

“The truth is that, while we train first responders, the real first responders in these tragedies are teachers,” Mr. DeWine said. “They’re the ones who are there. They’re the ones that are going to make the life-and-death decisions. They’re the ones that are going to do what they can do to save lives.

“By the time the first responders get there, we may already have a number of children killed,” he said. “That’s just the fact, no matter how good the first responders are or how fast they respond. … So it makes sense to be training [teachers and administrators] as well as law enforcement officers.”

Mr. DeWine said it’s about getting as much information as possible to those school professionals. He stopped short of saying what an unarmed school employee would be expected to do in such a situation.

The question of whether to arm them or a trained security guard with guns, the attorney general said, is not one for him but rather for more than 600 school boards across Ohio to answer.

Ohio law generally prohibits the public from carrying guns onto school property.

Mr. DeWine has been critical that some schools had not filed mandatory safety plans and building floor plans with his office as required by law, and his office said many of the plans that have been filed do not meet newly created minimum guidelines.

On Tuesday, The Blade sent reporters to several elementary schools in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. The reporters sometimes encountered unlocked front entrance doors or were buzzed through locked security doors before any questions were asked.

In each case, the reporters identified themselves when confronted and explained their reason for being there.

When asked for reaction, Mr. DeWine stressed that filing a quality safety plan is only the first step.

“Step 2: You have to follow the plan,” he said. “Now I couldn’t tell you on those schools — I don’t know what schools they are — if they were following their plan or they weren’t following their plan. Maybe that’s what their plan said. …

“We cannot, unless we barricade our schools in this country, ensure that there’s never going to be a problem, but what we can do, and what is our moral obligation to do as citizens and elected officials, is to minimize the risk, to increase our odds of the kids surviving, and to decrease the odds of something happening,” Mr. DeWine said.

Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said after the news conference that The Blade’s experience “illustrates the fact that, by and large, schools are open places where you expect parents and the community to be able to come in.”

“Most schools have established a process where you have to at least identify yourself,” Mr. Asbury said. “Schools have those procedures, but I think the fact that it didn’t happen is not a total surprise, given all the things that go on at a school every day. That illustrates the fact that schools have to put stronger procedures in place.”

Despite reminders, 97 schools statewide — mostly charter and private schools — had yet to file safety plans with Mr. DeWine’s office by Wednesday afternoon. The information given to the state is confidential, but it can be quickly accessed electronically by law enforcement officials as they respond to emergencies at schools.

Eight of the 97 schools are in northwest Ohio: Eagle Learning Center in Oregon, Discovery Express School in Holland, Star Academy of Toledo, Ohio Virtual Academy of Maumee, Alternative Education Academy of Toledo, Plan Do & Talk Academy of Bowling Green, Four County Career Center of Archbold, and Townsend North of Castalia.

Mr. DeWine’s office recently acquired simulators to help law enforcement train in real time to crises, including scenarios involving active shooters in schools. His task force on school safety will also be expanded to include more teachers and mental health professionals.

The first training is planned on Jan. 17 in central Ohio and then will be modified and taken to other regions of the state.

“We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Chardon in February,” said Michael Sawyers, acting superintendent of public instruction. “Ultimately, it has a lot of emotion that comes with it and raises the elevation of concern that this tragedy can occur anywhere in the United States, including here within Ohio.”

On Feb. 7, a student at Chardon High School near Cleveland opened fire, killing three fellow students and injuring two others. The alleged shooter, T.J. Lane, faces trial next month in Geauga County.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.