COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday sent a letter to school superintendents, providing them with updates on school safety services available while also diving deeper into House Bill 99.
Signed earlier in the week, HB99 gives schools more freedom to arm staff.
“Arming school personnel is a serious decision that is left up entirely to your school,” DeWine said in the letter. “It is optional. It is one of many tools that you can choose based on your unique school situation. Other tools, such as a school safety officer, may serve your school better. I signed this bill because we know some schools want to do this and know that each school situation is different. I did not want to deny schools this option and wanted to make sure that if a school chooses this option that all training hours are directly relevant to situations that could occur in schools. However, I have made it clear that, in my opinion, the much preferred option is to have a school resource officer in each school building.”
DeWine stressed that districts should be deliberate during the process.
“If you decide to arm a school employee, the selection of the right person or persons is obviously extremely important, and having the right temperament, good judgement, and prior familiarity with guns all would be factors to consider,” he said. “Hiring retired law enforcement officers in your schools is also something you might consider when deciding whether or not to arm a school employee.”
The new law caps how many hours of training the governor can mandate for personnel who are armed. And DeWine said he won’t skimp on that.
“I will require the maximum 24 hours of training that the law allows,” he told superintendents. “I will also require the maximum of eight hours of continuing training each year thereafter for those who first obtained the 24 hours. We worked with the legislature to make sure that the training hours required would all be relevant to the school setting, and further, I recently announced that we will develop longer blocs of training for schools that want more training for their teachers. These will be in blocs of six additional hours, so schools will have the option to pick 24, 30, 36, 42, or 48 hours of required training.”
DeWine reminded superintendents that up until a year ago Ohio law allowed schools to arm a teacher or other non-security personnel without any minimum training.
“At the same time, a person whose principal job in the school was security was required to complete the same basic training as a police officer, which is 700 hours of training,” DeWine wrote.
This was the generally accepted understanding of Ohio law, he said, until the Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision in Gabbard vs. Madison Local School District Board of Education, ruled that anyone armed in a school had to have the equivalent training as a police officer.
DeWine wrote that some schools told the legislature that more than 700 hours of training (most of which is not relevant to a school setting) is not practical and that they wanted legislative action.
Greene County News reached out to the public districts in the county prior to the bill being signed. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek, Cedarville, and Greeneview superintendents responded and said no discussions have taken place.
DeWine’s letter also addressed student wellness and success funding for mental health programming and training; Ohio School Safety Center resources and expansion; $100 million in grants for school safety and security upgrades; and new behavioral threat assessment training for educators.
The Safety Center expansion means that each of the state department of education’s 16 established school safety support team regions will have a liaison team, which can help with school vulnerability assessments, emergency response plans, and threat assessment teams.
Grant money can be used for safety improvements including visitor badging systems (currently used by Beavercreek City Schools), facility mapping, school radio systems, exterior lighting, and door locking systems.