School safety was the top topic for the state board of education, which hoped to learn about how to make buildings, staff and students more secure. But Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports, one idea that’s been making the rounds isn't likely to move forward
“Twenty-two seconds from the time the shooter shot the first bullet till the time he exited the school building. Twenty-two seconds.”
That’s how Chardon Schools superintendent Joe 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 in his, by being prepared for the worst.
“We did have a plan. We did follow the advice of the state. We had an active shooter drill. It was controversial in our area. Took a long time to get it through everybody’s mind that we needed to do this plan,” says Bergant.
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 anyplace else.
“School is a very, very safe place. Let’s just make it safer,” says DeWine.
DeWine’s office has been sponsoring training for educators on what to do in active shooter situations. And one idea that’s come up in that discussion around 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," says DeWine. "But I would do it if they had that training, I think.”
But when Republican Sen. Frank LaRose of Green near Akron, 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. This is a heavy responsibility to carry a deadly implement,” says LaRose.
Chardon superintendent Joe Bergant agrees.
“I’m 200% against it. I don’t think that adding weapons to a school environment will do any good.”
And those on the school board also appear to be in agreement. Mary Rose Oakar is a Democrat from Cleveland. She 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?” says Oakar.
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. I think we need to make sure that we have trained personnel in the school who are totally capable of assessing the situation,” says Terhar.
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.