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Published: Saturday, 6/8/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

DeWine outlines need for school safety plan

Task force formed after Chardon shootings

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Last year, after a student at Chardon High School near Cleveland shot five fellow students, killing three and wounding two, Attorney General Mike DeWine said he was shocked to learn that half of Ohio’s schools had not filed required safety plans with his office.

His concern was heightened by the killing of 26 students, teachers, and administrators at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

On Friday, Mr. DeWine unveiled the results of a task force he created to model plans that schools may follow, including the creation of building floor plans that could be downloaded by police and fire departments in the heat of an emergency.

The information would be accessible only to emergency personnel and not available to others, including a potential shooter.

“It has to be a community plan,” Mr. DeWine said. “It has to have buy-in from the chief of police, the fire chief, the sheriff. … They have to have access to mental-health people in the community.

“It’s not just about shootings,” he said. “It can be any disaster. It can be a tornado. It could be a hurricane. You could have a fire, anything. It’s to keep kids safe.”

Since 2007, public, private, and charter schools and preschools with kindergartens have been required by Ohio law to file such plans. But the actual filings were sporadic, in many cases inconsistent, and sometimes unreadable by people who might need to digest the information in a hurry.

The task force did not get into issues of whether schools should hire armed security officers or allow teachers to carry guns into what are otherwise largely gun-free zones in Ohio.

The 35-page report, however, encourages schools to identify potential vulnerabilities and to conduct regular training and safety drills. It also encourages the development of prevention programs to help identify students considered to be at risk for mental-health issues and intervention before a problem explodes.

Mr. DeWine noted that, even with the recent spotlight on school violence, 189 schools have not done a required three-year update of their plans and 58 failed to include a floor plan or emergency operations plan.

The bulk of the task force recommendations can be implemented without legislative help, but the report urges lawmakers to provide funding for on-site school security officers, training, school counselors, and structural security upgrades for schools.

The next two-year budget, about to enter the final stage of a joint House-Senate conference committee, contains $12 million in grants to help schools pay for security upgrades but not for security personnel.

As amended by the Senate, the proposed budget also incorporates a bill introduced by Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville) that would allow school districts to ask voters to approve property tax increases exclusively for school safety.

Mr. DeWine’s task force also urged lawmakers to work with federal officials to make information available about the mentally ill when it comes to access to firearms.

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



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