By Jim Gaines
Source Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
Gov. Mike DeWine has signed House Bill 99, allowing teachers and other school personnel to carry guns in the classroom, he announced Monday.
Speaking at Ohio Department of Public Safety headquarters in Columbus, DeWine and legislators backing the bill touted the measure as improving school safety, and emphasized that it's accompanied by further resources for youth mental health. The bill will take effect in 90 days. It includes $6 million to expand the state's network of school safety centers, DeWine said.
Early in the afternoon Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton and now the Democratic nominee running against DeWine for the governor's office, held a virtual news conference to denounce HB 99 and other loosening of gun laws under DeWine.
Whaley recalled that when DeWine visited Dayton immediately after the mass shooting in the Oregon District in August 2019, the crowd began chanting "Do something!" at him. That has since become a rallying cry to address gun violence.
"It is one of the most powerful moments I have ever witnessed," Whaley said.
Asked Monday if bills like HB 99 and HB 215 were what people meant by chanting "Do something," DeWine replied, "I don't know."
He acknowledged that there is no data on whether allowing armed teachers would actually decrease school shootings, but said "anecdotally" he's been told it would help.
DeWine said it wasn't practical to instead require that districts have school resource officers — trained police — in all schools, since there are more than 5,000 public school buildings statewide.
"We looked at that and we did the math," he said.
More than arming teachers
DeWine's announcement came the same day permitless concealed carry of handguns became legal under HB 215, which he signed March 14.
Although his announcement on HB 99 was expected, DeWine prefaced it with a recitation of related actions since he became Ohio attorney general in 2011: updating school safety plans, creating a task force focused on mental health and providing grants for schools to give active-shooter training.
As governor, he put $84 million toward expanding behavioral health centers in children's hospitals, DeWine said.
"That is a work in progress," he said.
Student Wellness and Success Funds are now part of the standard school funding formula, DeWine said.
In 2019, the state created the Ohio School Safety Center, which looks for threats on social media, runs the state tipline for potential school violence and offers vulnerability assessments of school facilities, he said. Another $5 million for the center's grant program was announced just before the May 24 shooting that killed 21 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
DeWine said he'll sign the state's biannual capital project budget Tuesday, which includes $100 million that can be used to improve school safety.
By March 2023, every school must have a team in place to assess students' behavior for potential threats; teachers will be trained by staff from educational service centers, he said.
For a decade Ohio law allowed three categories of people to carry guns in schools, DeWine said: police, hired security, or "any other person who has written authorization from the board of education or governing body of a school to convey deadly weapons."
But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that those armed personnel had to have the same training as a police officer: more than 700 hours, or 20 years of law enforcement experience, he said. That made it "impractical for most schools" to arm anyone but actual police, whether active or retired, DeWine said.
He worked with the General Assembly to craft HB 99 in response to that ruling.
State Rep. Thomas Hall, R- Madison Twp., introduced House Bill 99 in February 2021. It passed the House in November but languished in a Senate committee until the May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 elementary school students and two teachers died.
On Monday, Hall held up what he said was the 18th version of the bill, which finally passed.
He described the bill as responding to public calls to "do something" about gun violence.
"Today is Ohio 'doing something,' and I am grateful to see this bill being signed into law," Hall said.
Hall noted the presence Monday of his father, Kent Hall, who was the school resource officer at Madison High School during a shooting there in 2016. He chased the 15-year-old who had opened fire in the cafeteria.
What's in the new law
Schools will not be required to arm teachers or staff: some districts have already said they won't, some said they will, and many are undecided, DeWine said. Districts that already have police on hand may "very, very understandably" want to limit guns to those officers, he said.
Armed school personnel must have an annual background check, and school boards that choose to allow armed personnel must notify parents of that decision.
The bill says teachers are required to have "up to" 24 hours of gun training, and DeWine said he's directing the Ohio School Safety Center to develop curriculum for that maximum.
How many of those 24 hours will be actual live firearm training has yet to be decided, DeWine said.
The bill appropriates $6 million to expand the Ohio School Safety Center and create a new OSSC Safety & Crisis Division. DeWine said he has instructed the school safety center to expand its school safety liaison positions from five to 16. Those liaison personnel will provide training for teachers and school staff who are authorized to carry guns.
Individual districts may insist their personnel get more training, and DeWine said he's also asking the center to develop "above and beyond" training blocks for that purpose, plus a required 8 hours of extra training per year.
School districts can send personnel elsewhere for training if that instruction meets the state standards, DeWine said.
"The private sector can certainly get involved in this," he said.
State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R- Mingo Junction backed HB 99 in the Senate. Hoagland, a retired Navy SEAL, has for 17 years owned Special Tactics and Rescue Training (START) LLC, which provides security training. Asked if his company would contract with school districts to provide the training required by HB 99, he said "Absolutely not."
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