(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Ohio Governor Mike DeWine today signed House Bill 99 and provided an update on new and ongoing school safety initiatives in Ohio.
"Our goal is to continue to help our public and private schools get the tools they need to protect our children," said Governor DeWine. "Working together, we have come a long way to improve school safety in Ohio over the last decade, and we must continue this progress. We have an obligation to do everything we can every single day to try and protect our kids."
House Bill 99, sponsored by Thomas Hall (R-Madison Township), does the following:
- Allows the previous practice of permitting school boards to choose to arm specific staff members and mandates reasonable training requirements for those individuals. For decades, state law was generally understood to permit law enforcement officers, security officers employed by the local school board, and "any other person who has written authorization from the board of education or governing body of a school" to be armed on school grounds. Ohio law did not previously address training for this third category of individuals, however, a split-decision ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court last year interpreted statutes related to this category of individuals as requiring more than 700 hours of basic peace officer training (most of which is unrelated to school safety i.e., traffic stop procedures, crash investigations, radar gun operation) or 20 years of law enforcement experience, making the third option impractical for most schools. The Ohio Supreme Court's majority opinion acknowledged that the legislature could change and clarify the law. House Bill 99 once again allows the previous practice of permitting local school boards to make a local decision on whether or not they will allow specific individuals to be armed on school grounds. House Bill 99 also codifies a reasonable training requirement (see details in next bullet) of up to 24 hours of initial school-specific training and up to eight hours of yearly school-specific requalification training to be developed by the Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC). Governor DeWine has directed the OSSC, which he created in 2019 to focus exclusively on the safety of Ohio schools, to require the maximum amount of training allowable in the law (24 initial hours/8 annual requalification hours). He has also asked OSSC to create additional training curriculum for districts that choose to require training above what is required by the state. The bill also mandates yearly criminal background checks for those permitted by their school boards to carry a firearm on school grounds. It is important to emphasize that the bill does not mandate the arming of school staff members but leaves the decision entirely to local school boards, which have the best understanding of the needs of their individual districts.
- Appropriates $6 million over the remainder of the current budget cycle to expand the Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) and create a new OSSC Safety & Crisis Division. The new OSSC Safety & Crisis Division will be led by a chief mobile training officer who will oversee 16 new regional training officers working within the 16 established Ohio Department of Education school safety support team regions. This new team of 17 OSSC staff members will develop the required initial training curriculum, yearly requalifying curriculum, and optional additional training curriculum for those authorized by their school districts to carry a firearm on school grounds. As opposed to 700 hours of training primarily unrelated to school safety, House Bill 99 requires relevant, school-specific training (as outlined in the previous bullet). Training modules will include scenario-based training, as well as instruction on mitigation techniques; communications; neutralization of potential threats and active shooters; accountability; reunification; psychology of critical incidents; de-escalation techniques; crisis intervention; trauma and first aid care; history/pattern of school shootings; tactics of responding to critical incidents; tactical live firearm training, and realistic training urban training.
Separately from House Bill 99, Governor DeWine has also instructed that the OSSC expand its number of school safety liaison positions from five to 16. The 16 OSSC liaisons will also be based within the ODE school safety support team regions and will work with schools to implement a comprehensive school safety framework by assisting them to secure school safety grant funding, conduct physical vulnerability assessments, and evaluate emotional safety and cyber safety. In total, 28 new employees (17 safety & crisis staff/11 liaison staff) will be added to the OSSC in the coming months.
Governor DeWine has also worked with the Ohio General Assembly to secure $100 million in funding to help K-12 public, private, and parochial schools pay for physical safety and security upgrades. The funding, which is part of the new capital budget, will be awarded to schools as part of Governor DeWine’s existing K-12 School Safety Grant Program. The funding will pay for physical safety upgrades in and around school buildings such as visitor badging systems, school radio systems, exterior lights, security training, door locking systems, and other physical safety needs.
To help schools meet the requirements of House Bill 123 of the 133rd Ohio General Assembly, Governor DeWine has also directed the OSSC and Ohio Department of Education to offer free, evidence-based threat assessment training for Ohio schools. This specialized training, which focuses on identifying behavioral issues and assessing threats of violence, will first be provided to many of Ohio’s Educational Service Centers whose staff will then teach these guidelines to educators, support staff, school resource officers, and other school leaders across the state. House Bill 123 requires that all public schools serving grades 6-12 have a threat assessment team in place by March 24, 2023.
The above actions support Governor DeWine’s ongoing work to protect school students and staff through violent crime reduction strategies and enhanced mental health services, including:
Strengthening Ohio’s Mental Health Workforce
- As part of his Wellness Workforce Initiative, Governor DeWine announced a plan to invest $85 million, with the help of the General Assembly, to expand Ohio’s behavioral health workforce to meet the need.
Encouraging Student Wellness
- Governor DeWine created the Student Wellness and Success Fund, a $1.2 billion investment that is now a part of the school funding formula, to provide wraparound services to students. Wraparound services are programming and supports meant to build skills and fulfill a student or familial need. To date, this funding has launched 1,300 mental health programs and trained 6,500 educators and school professionals.
- After hearing about the need for more accessible mental health services for students on college campuses, Governor DeWine led the nation with a $13.5 million investment to expand mental health services for higher education students.
Enhancing School Security
- Governor DeWine developed the Ohio School Safety Center within the Ohio Department of Public Safety to be a comprehensive, statewide office focused exclusively on enhancing the safety of Ohio schools. The center maintains and promotes the Safer Ohio School Tip Line (844-SAFEROH) and assists schools and first responders in preventing, preparing for, and responding to threats and acts of violence including self-harm. Staff also proactively scans social media and websites to identify threats against schools.
- Governor DeWine created the Ohio School Safety Working Group consisting of experts in the fields of public safety, education, mental health, emergency management, and others. The group meets quarterly to discuss school safety issues, trends, and local needs.
- Governor DeWine has invested millions in helping public schools, chartered nonpublic schools, licensed preschools, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, and houses of worship with funding for safety and security improvements.
Reducing Violent Crime
- Governor DeWine worked with the Ohio General Assembly to invest $250 million in Ohio’s law enforcement agencies and first responders.
- Governor DeWine created the Ohio Ballistics Testing Initiative to double the number of National Integrated Ballistic Information Network units in Ohio to help law enforcement identify criminals responsible for deadly shootings and other incidents of gun violence in Ohio.
- Governor DeWine created the Ohio Crime Lab Efficiency Program to eliminate backlogs in the testing of criminal evidence at Ohio’s certified crime labs across the state with the goal of returning evidence test results back to law enforcement faster.
- Governor DeWine created the Ohio Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program to provide funding to local law enforcement agencies to help them implement new violent crime reduction strategies in their communities.
- Governor DeWine directed the Ohio State Highway Patrol to assist local law enforcement with “surge operations” designed to interdict gun violence and repossess stolen or illegally possessed guns.