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Education


Ohio Board of Education hears ideas on school safety
Board is leaning away from arming teachers
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE BUREAU CHIEF KAREN KASLER


Reporter
Karen Kasler
 
Chardon High School students march to a one-year anniversary memorial service on Feb. 27.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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School safety is one top topic for the state Board of Education. But one idea that’s been making the rounds is likely to end now. Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports from today’s board meeting.

LISTEN: KASLER ON SCHOOL SAFETY

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“Twenty-two seconds from the time the shooter shot the first bullet till the time he exited the school building," Chardon Schools superintendent Joe Bergant says. "Twenty-two seconds.”

Bergant started his description of the deadliest high school shooting since 2005 to the state board of education. In less than a minute on February 27, 2012, three Chardon High School students were killed and three others were seriously hurt – and a community was devastated.

But Bergant told board members other districts can learn from the tragedy by being prepared for the worst.

“We did have a plan," Bergant said. "We did follow the advice of the state. We had an active shooter drill. It was controversial in our area. [It] took a long time to get it through everybody’s mind that we needed to do this plan.”

Schools are safe
The board is working to come up with recommendations for schools on how to deal with crisis situations such as shootings and bomb threats. Among those who spoke to the board was Attorney General Mike DeWine, who says kids are safer in schools than almost any place else.

“School is a very, very safe place," DeWine says. "Let’s just make it safer.”

DeWine’s office has been sponsoring training for educators on what to do in active-shooter situations. One idea that has come up in the discussion on school safety is whether to arm teachers, who many say are the first responders when a person with a weapon is in a school building. DeWine has said he’s not opposed to the idea, if local school boards approve it – but only if that person has extensive law enforcement training.

“I would never put someone in a school who just had a minimum amount of training or experience with a gun," DeWine says. "But I would do it if they had that training, I think.”

'Seeing what happens when the heat is on' 
But when Republican Sen. Frank LaRose of Green, who was a Green Beret in the Army, talked to the board about hearings he held on school safety, he said he could not support arming school personnel.

“I’ve seen what happens when the heat is on, when the stress levels are high and even the best trained in the world have accuracy as well as target identification issues," LaRose says. "This is a heavy responsibility to carry a deadly implement.”

Bergant agrees.

“I’m 200 percent against it," Bergant says. "I don’t think that adding weapons to a school environment will do any good.”

And those on the school board also appear to agree. Cleveland Dem. Mary Rose Oakar says a police presence in schools is preferred to armed teachers, but she wants to see a state or federal fund to help provide more security for schools.
“It’s that simple, because local people on the school board, they have to decide between do I hire another teacher with smaller classes or do I have another police officer?” Oaker says.

School board president Debe Terhar was in hot water earlier this year because of a Facebook post about gun control, but the Republican from Cincinnati says she has serious concerns about educators with guns in the classroom.
“I am not convinced that arming teachers is really the way to go about this," Terhar says. "I think we need to make sure that we have trained personnel in the school who are totally capable of assessing the situation.”

Each district is supposed to have a specific emergency plan on file with the Attorney General’s office, but DeWine says some of those plans are low-quality and unsophisticated – a few even have handwritten notes on them. DeWine says in June his office will roll out some guidance for districts on updating and improving their plans.

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