Clark, Champaign schools remain gun-free, have other security measures in place

Many schools have chosen not to take advantage of the ability to arm teachers.

Local schools in Clark and Champaign counties are opting to keep their gun-free policies, but continue to have other security measures in place.

Last school year ended with the national news of a deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In response, Ohio passed a new law allowing teachers to carry weapons in schools, if they are registered with the new Ohio School Safety and Crisis Center, which is through the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine noted much of the focus and attention in the law that allows teachers to carry weapons in schools was on arming teachers, there are other factors that go into safety.

“Again, while a lot of focus, understandably, has been on this, all the other things that you do every day to keep kids safe are frankly a lot bigger than that,” DeWine said at the Ohio School Safety Summit, an annual conference on school safety, Tuesday morning.

Before June 2021, Ohio school boards could allow teachers with a conceal-carry permit access to guns in schools. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in June 2021 that Ohio school staff who carried guns needed to have the same training as law enforcement, who are required to have more than 700 hours of training. The new law overturns the 2021 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

But the new law is controversial. The two major Ohio teachers’ unions — the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Education Association — issued a joint statement opposing the bill before it was signed in June.

Not all school districts want their teachers to carry guns, either, with many local districts continuing to prohibit guns and making no changes to district policies, including Clark-Shawnee, Greenon, Northeastern, Springfield, Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center (CTC) and Triad local schools.

Arming teachers and school resource officers

Many school districts in the area said they did not plan or choose to arm teachers this year, though it is legal for them to do so.

Under the new law, districts would have to notify the public that they’re allowing personnel to have access to guns inside the school. In addition, any district that wants to implement a plan would have to go through the school board and a public meeting, and vote would need to take place.

At the districts, anyone on campus is prohibited from having weapons and anyone found to have one may be prosecuted.

Multiple districts said they do not plan to ask teachers to carry guns, because they have trained staff, often current police officers, as student resource officers, often abbreviated as SROs.

ExploreBack to School: When Clark, Champaign students start classes

The schools rely on the SROs throughout the district, including four at Springfield and one at Clark-Shawnee, Greenon, Northeastern, Springfield-Clark CTC and Triad.

“Their presence is key to maintaining a sense of security in our buildings, as well as establishing healthy relationships between the police and our students,” said Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill.

The SRO at CTC has been there for several years and is “excellent and building a rapport with students” and is a continuous daily presence throughout the day, said Superintendent Michelle Patrick.

Hill said it will take a “comprehensive legislative approach to address the unfortunate epidemic of school gun violence that is currently plaguing our nation.”

“That means limiting access to dangerous weapons by those who should not have access to them, increasing school mental health programs and boosting funding for gun violence — none of those actions should be done independently of one another, but in unison,” he said. “Our schools and the educators within those schools cannot bear the burden of solving this problem. It takes a community and a country to say enough is enough and implement legislation that extends beyond the walls of the school building.”

Other security measures

Measures such as locking doors, having visitor passes for people who aren’t students or staff, hotlines for people to report tips, safety drills and trainings, and working with law enforcement at school also help keep students safe.

On Tuesday, DeWine announced a total of $47 million in grant funding as part of his Ohio K-12 School Safety Grant Program, with several local school districts, including Springfield, Mechanicsburg Exempted Village, Triad and West Liberty-Salem benefiting from the grant funding.

The money will be used on physical security upgrades such as security cameras, public address systems, automatic door locks, visitor badging systems and exterior lighting, according to DeWine’s office.

Another round of funding is upcoming, said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for DeWine’s office.

At Springfield schools, there are emergency plans in place that students and staff are prepared to implement if a threat exists, routine safety drills including lockdown and rapid dismissal, and staff goes through annual active threat training.

“Students and staff have been trained to either ‘run, hide or fight’ in an active shooter situation, which has become a common protocol in schools around the country,” Hill said.

Springfield, as well as Greenon and Northeastern also all work closely with local law enforcement to ensure safety and help develop safety plans and scenario trainings.

ExploreClark-Shawnee school officials relieved substitute levy passed after 2 previous rejections

Triad has several safety measures in place, but plans to add more such as locked doors, fob entrance only and drills, and the school resource officers will conduct unannounced district-wide and full-scale drills to ensure staff and students are prepared. At CTC, all buildings are locked with controlled access, there are monthly scenario-based drills, plans and procedures for campus-wide lockdowns, and also reunification plans if buildings require evacuation.

Clark-Shawnee school facilities also include secure entry vestibules that help monitor and restrict entry into buildings.

“It is unfortunate that instruction related to gun violence and school safety are part of our conversations with students. However, they are essential in the wake of the tragic stories that we witness across our nation,” Superintendent Brian Kuhn said

Students at most districts can voice concerns or report tips to any school official or anonymously by texting or calling the Safer Ohio School Tip Line 24/7 at 844-SaferOH or 844-723-3764. Northeastern students can also call 937-568-7117 anytime 24/7 and an immediate alert is sent to school officials.

“We encourage students to ‘see something, say something’ when it comes to school safety,” Hill said. “Even if a student is not sure of the severity of something they’ve encountered, it’s better to report it instead of doing nothing.”

Along with having security measures, many districts also have mental health services in place with guidance counselors and therapists on campus to help those needed.

Springfield is one of the many districts that has placed an additional emphasis on mental health, with partnering with local agencies for counseling services and having a Crisis Response Team to support students and staff in case of a loss.

“Our educators make it a point to express to our students that how they are feeling matters by incorporating social emotional learning into the everyday curriculum,” Hill said.

What can parents do?

Dr. Mary Beth DeWitt, chief of child psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said one of the best things parents can do to be involved with their child’s safety is going to school parent teacher nights and asking questions.

“Ask, how do you ensure my child’s safety and how do you what resources do you have available to my child if concerns are present?” DeWitt said.

For parents who are able, volunteering in a classroom and asking teachers questions are great ways to engage with the teachers and connect with your kid, she said.

It is also helpful to have “safety people” for kids, DeWitt said. For many kids, their primary caregivers are their safe people at home. At school, that’s often a teacher.

DeWitt said she appreciates that many more schools now have counselors.

“There’s so many kids that don’t come through our doors that are probably struggling just the same,” DeWitt said. “And so being able to be accessible to kids where they are, in their primary care offices, in their schools, youth groups, whatever, is really a big step towards improving the mental health of kids.”

Back to school dates

Aug. 17: Global Impact STEM Academy, Northwestern Local Schools, Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center (CTC) level 1, Tecumseh Local Schools.

Aug. 18: Triad Local Schools, Springfield CTC level 2.

Aug. 19: Urbana City Schools group A.

Aug. 22: Graham Local Schools, Triad preschool, Urbana group B.

Aug. 23: Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools, Triad preschool and kindergarten, Urbana group C.

Aug. 24: Springfield City Schools grades 1-9.

Aug. 25: Southeastern Local Schools, Springfield grades 10-12.

Aug. 29: Greenon Local Schools and kindergarten last names A-M.

Aug. 30: Greenon kindergarten last names N-Z, Northeastern Local Schools, Springfield kindergarten last names A-L.

Aug. 31: Springfield kindergarten last names M-Z.

Sept. 1: Clark-Shawnee Local Schools, Springfield all kindergarten.

Sept. 7: Clark-Shawnee kindergarten last names A-L.

Sept. 8: Clark-Shawnee kindergarten last names M-Z and all preschool.

Sept. 9: Clark-Shawnee all kindergarten.