School leaders react to governor’s letter promising more help keeping schools safe

It’s a summer break of weighty decisions for area school officials in the wake of Ohio’s new law allowing local districts the option to arm school staffers.

And while area school officials are mulling that over, some are already in agreement in their appreciation of a recent message from Governor Mike DeWine sent directly to all of Ohio’s 613 public school superintendents.

In that letter, DeWine touted a series of other, non-firearm options to help make schools safer from violent attacks.

“Arming school personnel is a serious decision that is left up entirely to your school. It is optional,” wrote DeWine. “It is one of many tools that you can choose based on your unique school situation. Other tools, such as a school safety officer, may serve your school better.”

ExploreNew school law option to arm teachers has local officials weighing strategies

And besides armed school police officers, called school resource officers or SROs, DeWine said the new law also provides new money for student “wellness and success funding for mental health programming and training.”

And a $100 million in grants for school safety and security upgrades and “new behavioral threat assessment training for educators.”

The 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, like others in the area, have already bolstered their mental health counseling for students due to the historic stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic but the district’s leader welcomed more help.

“In Governor DeWine’s letter, he touched on several topics,” said Fairfield Superintendent Billy Smith.

Smith said Fairfield “at this time, the (district) is not considering arming school staff members.”

But the district is interested, he said, in “student wellness and success funding for mental health programming and training.”

“As a school district, we are very proud of the work that we’ve done in this particular area … it is critical for students to be ready to learn when they come into our classrooms … we have really focused on putting some extra support systems in place for our students,” he said.

Recent years have seen Fairfield add guidance counselors in each of our elementary buildings.

“In addition, we have established partnerships with outside counseling agencies who are willing to come into our schools and provide counseling services for our students. We have initiated Hope Squads in each of our secondary buildings.

“I am very excited to hear the news about $100 million in grants being available for school safety and security upgrades. Governor DeWine mentioned several examples of school safety improvements, and our district is currently looking at several of the examples he mentioned. The district looks forward to the opportunity to apply for these grants,” said Smith.

Talawanda Schools Superintendent Edward Theroux, however, is skeptical of the promise of more state help, specifically additional funding to help keep schools safer.

“I look forward to seeing if the legislators including Governor DeWine place additional funding towards mental health, school funding, safety, and services needed to educate all students. While I have read the letter, I have not seen any additional funding, services, or the correcting of the unconstitutional school funding,” said Theroux.

“We applied for the Ohio Attorney General Safety grant which was not a lot of money over the past two years. We received about $16,000 the first year and about $12,000 the second year. However, it appears this safety grant is now a competitive grant and Talawanda’s application was not selected for funding in year three,” he said.

Officials at Kings Schools also decried what they described relatively low, overall state funding but said they are strengthening the district’s partnership with local law enforcement to further secure schools.

“As school funding from the state is particularly low for the Kings District, currently, we are having conversations with Sheriff Sims and our local leaders to look for solutions to increase the security in our buildings in the most fiscally responsible way,” said Dawn Gould, spokeswoman for Kings.

Mason Schools, which is the largest district in Warren County, also are not pursuing arming school staffers, said Superintendent Jonathan Cooper.

“I do not plan to recommend that the (school) board create a policy allowing teachers to carry guns at school in Mason,” said Cooper.

“Our goal is to allow our teachers to focus on building meaningful relationships, providing outstanding instruction, and growing our learners’ skills and mindsets. And we will continue to work with the City of Mason’s Campus Safety Team, which we annually invest $1 million each year in, to provide trained police officers who are on duty at each of our schools.”

“We are very pleased to see more funding for mental health programming and training,” said Cooper.

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