By Jona Ison
Lancaster Eagle Gazette
GROVE CITY – Flexibility in the law is a key for schools and law enforcement as they look to improve security while also seek ways to prevent mass shootings by students.
The message was a main takeaway by Congressman Steve Stivers from a roundtable discussion he hosted on Friday with more than 30 school superintendents and law enforcement from across his district of a dozen counties including Fairfield, Ross, Pickaway and Franklin.
“The thing I absolutely heard from them is (they need) some flexibility,” Stivers said, adding funding and a need for a social media platform for students to report threats also are needed.
The trouble with security changes
Rural superintendents like Todd Osborn from Liberty Union-Thurston were quick to note that what they struggle with in relations to implementing security changes is quite different from urban districts like Columbus City Schools where they have 109 buildings to address. Not only is emergency response time drastically different, but so is the culture.
“It’s unique and usually the problem is, well, you know me,” Osborn said. “‘Why do I got to sign in every day? Why do I have to come to the office and get a sticker or badge to come into the school? You know me. I’ve been here. I graduated from Liberty-Union in ’72, my mom was ’58, and my kid was ’84.’ And we start going through the whole system. They were here. ‘That is the brick that I bought.’ That’s a bigger challenge – they have an entitlement to that school they’ve been in for 60 years, and the moment I tell them no, well, ‘You’re that guy from up north. You’re not from around here. You don’t understand how it works.’ It’s on a different level.”
The community initially was resistant also to the idea of a school resource officer, so they did it with the D.A.R.E. officer and gradually adjusted the role, said Baltimore Police Chief Michael Tussey.
However, funding school resource officers is a huge hurdle, particularly for small communities like Baltimore which has about 3,000 residents, Tussey told Stivers.
“There should be some dynamic out there that can support us,” Tussey said after the meeting.
Congressman Steve Stivers, at left, speaks during a community discussion on school safety he hosted with school superintendents and law enforcement across his district on Friday. (Photo: Jona Ison/Gazette)
While Liberty-Union’s high school resource officer – paid for by the district – does spend time in the elementary, Tussey said they’d like to have a full-time officer but neither the department’s budget nor the school’s can afford it.
Funding for other agencies, such as children services, also was brought up by several in attendance noting these supports for the success of their students also are overwhelmed and need more help.
Superintendents shared, too, how their districts are doing a multi-layered approach and also are trying to address students’ mental health.
For example, last year Grandview Heights employed two full-time mental health specialists, one paid by the district and the other by the local Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health board.
All seventh and 10th grade students receive mental health screenings which has begun identifying some students who need assistance who weren’t on the radar of parents or teachers, said Superintendent Andy Culp.
Liberty-Union also has brought in mental health specialists, using funds it previously used for guidance counselors in the elementary.
A team of lead teachers have been tapped to fill in for guidance services such as scheduling.
A ‘social emotional’ grade
Schools across the state have either begun training or are in the midst of training teachers on trauma-informed approaches with student interactions and discipline.
There’s also a push through the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Department of Education to train teachers to teach students skills like how to cope with stress through a shift in classroom culture.
Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen said he hopes to implement a “social emotional” grade for students within the next few years. The grade would measure how well students re doing with social skills but also things like self-regulating.
Stivers encouraged the districts to do a fresh safety assessment of their districts and to evaluate what existing funding is helping them and where there may be holes.
He provided a list during the meeting of grants available and a check-list for the assessment. Stivers plans to gather officials again later this summer to discuss the funding end of the issue in more detail.