Bellbrook schools, city, twp. weigh resource officers for active shooter plan

Some parents say they feel “blindsided” by armed volunteer response team plan

BELLBROOK — The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District, Bellbrook City Council, and Sugarcreek Twp. trustees and staff met Monday to discuss pooling their resources to hire more school resource officers as part of the district’s “multi-layered” approach to protecting schools from active shooter threats.

The district is looking to have more school resource officers on site as part of a a “hybrid approach” of deterring school shooters. The board approved the creation of a Volunteer Active Shooter Response team at its Sept. 8 meeting, which would be made up of “capable, trained, highly vetted responders,” in addition to the officers.

“We recognize – I think collectively – that a school resource officer in school is the best case scenario, is the best deterrent that we could possibly have. We also recognize that there is an associated cost with that,” Sugarcreek Twp. administrator Barry Tiffany said.

Currently, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools have one school resource officer, who splits time between the middle school and high school. Eventually, the district may have an officer in every building, but the timeline for that largely depends on funding.

The Ohio legislature had previously considered allowing local jurisdictions a funding path specifically for school resource officers, Tiffany said. Ohio House Bill 501, which primarily concerns changes in township administration, included language that would have allowed cities and townships to pass levies exclusively for the hiring and training of school resource officers. However, that language was thrown out by the House Committee.

“This is a totally local decision for our community to make on how much they want to spend,” Tiffany said. “The longer we wait, we’re missing opportunities. This is a cheap fix to make sure that we’ve got the funding to do this job right.”

New school resource officers would likely be sourced from officers who already work for the Sugarcreek and Bellbrook police departments, officials said, as they already know the community and have relationships with students. Officials also floated the idea that costs would be split evenly between the school and the two police departments, as additional school officers benefit the community “as a whole.”

“It’s a resource that is adding so much value and advantage to the growth and connectivity between the community, (and) students,” said Bellbrook City Manager Rob Schommer.

The district has four school buildings grouped around the Feedwire-Upper Bellbrook Road intersection, plus an elementary school about three miles away. Board Vice President Audra Dorn said that geography needs to be considered in choosing where and when to add new SROs to the district.

The township, city, and school district will work out exactly how to fund additional school resource officers in the coming months, but officials said it was time to “find a way to make this happen.”

“There’s a way to finance this if we can all work together,” said Sugarcreek Twp Trustee Fred Cramer.

The other part of Bellbrook’s hybrid approach is the creation of the Volunteer Active Shooter Response team, which would make firearms available to an approved group of volunteer educators and staff in case of an emergency.

Parents and teachers who attended the district’s meeting Monday wore stickers that said “parents/staff deserve input” and some said they felt “blindsided” by the board’s decision to make firearms available to teachers.

Bellbrook parent Meredith Brinegar noted that the board waited until after the public comment portion of the Sept. 8 meeting to introduce, amend and vote on the resolution for the active shooter response team.

“School staff who aren’t allowed to have direct contact with board members were not asked for input ahead of time,” she said. “Was this legal? Yes. Was it ethical? I would argue it wasn’t.”

The resolution at the Sept. 8 meeting authorized the creation of a committee that would determine the school’s active shooter safety plan, Dorn said, adding that the final plan would have to be approved by the board before it goes into effect.

The Sugarcreek Education Association teacher’s union surveyed just under 150 teachers and staff members at Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools, over half of whom said they were not in favor of the decision. About a quarter of those surveyed said they were unsure, citing a lack of information.

“We got some staff members that were speaking out very much against this,” said union president Mark Carriera.

Rather than carrying the guns during school, response team members would be able to access “securely stored firearms” in case of an emergency. Preliminary requirements for Bellbrook’s response team participants would include undergoing an interview, passing a thorough background check and mental health screening, and completing at least 40 hours of training, with annual re-certifications. In Ohio, this is the same hourly training requirement for court officers, such as bailiffs or probation officers, who are allowed to carry weapons on school grounds.

Board members emphasized that teachers would not be carrying weapons on their person during the day.

“No one is going to be carrying in school on a regular basis, by any stretch of the imagination,” said board member Mike Kinsey. “Firearms would be used only in case of a deadly threat.”

Bellbrook schools already have a wide array of other safety and prevention protocols already in place, including active shooter training, classroom door-lock mechanisms, an electronic visitor management system, several suicide and violence prevention initiatives, and “technology that monitors usage of district devices for warning signs or other threats.”

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