As the school year winds down to an end, I find myself reflecting on the tragic events that took place over the past year within our schools. It is high time that we come together as a state and as a nation with creative solutions to better protect our schools, which seem to have become top targets. None of us want to live in a world where parents fear letting their children go to class each day. Our school boards already have the ability to permit armed staffers in schools, which schools in northwest Ohio are already taking advantage of.
In order to focus more on this issue locally, the Ohio House is making school safety a top priority. We must give our districts more options for security and safety plans, allowing them to decide what works best for their schools and community. We recently passed legislation that includes a provision giving educational service centers (ESCs) the ability to levy a property tax that will specifically fund school security and mental health services. This permissive bill upholds local control and allows the community to come together to decide if it needs more funding for school safety.
Additionally, we approved House Bill 318, appropriating $10 million in fiscal year 2019 for grants to public and chartered nonpublic schools for school safety programs and training for school resource officers (SROs). Many districts already employ SROs, but current law doesn’t define their role, the duties that accompany it, or training requirements for the position.
The legislation would institute certain training obligations and better prepare SROs for emergency situations that may occur on school grounds and their responsibility to address such events. Specifically, the legislation would require an SRO to complete 40 hours of training that has been approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy within their first year on the job.
House Bill 318 not only creates necessary standards, but it encourages schools to utilize school resource officers. Their role will be clearly outlined, and districts will have more confidence in the ability for a hired SRO to manage emergency scenarios on school grounds. The bill also requires the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to conduct a study of SRO services and security upgrades in existing school district-operated buildings and to submit a copy of the study to the Governor and General Assembly by February 1, 2019, to ensure their roles are being fulfilled. The results of this study may potentially spur additional legislation as to how to better fortify our school buildings.
Another bill currently in the committee process is House Bill 526, which would allow current or retired law enforcement officers to act as volunteer patrols in our schools to help deter a mass casualty event. There would be no cost to school districts that participate in the program. Each individual must go through a screening process and be firearm certified. Once approved, the names of the volunteers would be distributed to local school districts for the purpose of scheduling. Under the bill, the officers who volunteer in the program would be eligible for a tax credit in return for their professional services and time given.
At the end of the day, we all want our children to be able to learn in a safe environment free of distractions. The Ohio House has put forward reasonable solutions to better protect our school buildings and grounds, and I believe cities and towns across the state can get behind these measures. We must work together to offer more resources to our students in the event of sudden, unexpected emergencies.
State Representative Craig S. Riedel represents the 82nd District, which includes Defiance, Paulding and Van Wert counties as well as the northwest corner of Auglaize County. Reach him at 614-644-5091 or firstname.lastname@example.org