COLUMBUS – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recently announced that he issued an executive order creating a specialized division of Ohio Homeland Security (OHS) devoted exclusively to the safety of Ohio’s students and schools.
As the new comprehensive, statewide office in Ohio focused exclusively on enhancing the safety of our schools, the Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC), will assist local schools and law enforcement in preventing, preparing for, and responding to threats and acts of violence, including self-harm, through a holistic, solutions-based approach to improving school safety.
“Given that schools are often targets of violence, school safety proposals are a prominent part of STRONG Ohio, my 17-point plan to reduce violence with dangerous weapons and increase mental health treatment,” said Governor DeWine. “Having one office where the staff solely focuses on keeping our students safe and our schools secure, will allow analysts to nimbly assess threats, proactively address potential issues, and expertly train and support school faculty in a more streamlined manner.”
Mirroring national trends, Ohio has experienced several incidents of violence in schools over the past seven years, including shootings at Chardon High School in 2012, Madison Junior/Senior High School in 2016, and West Liberty-Salem High School in 2017. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults aged 10-24 years.
The OSSC will be headquartered at the OHS offices within the Ohio Department of Public Safety in Columbus and will continue the current work of OHS staff to annually review approximately 5,500 school emergency management plans and offer free risk and threat assessments to schools throughout the state. OSSC staff will also:
* Promote and expand use of the SaferOH Tip Line through training and increased visibility to encourage more anonymous reports of school safety concerns and threats of violence. The SaferOH Tip Line, which accepts calls or texts to 844-SAFEROH (844-723-3764), is available free of charge to every school district, public school, and private school in Ohio. This centralized tip line is critical to ensuring information sharing, prevention, and intervention, yet it is severely underutilized. OSSC staff would educate school staff, students, and community members on how to use the tip line, what to report, and how confidentially is maintained. All tips are forwarded to local school officials and law enforcement.
* Proactively scan social media and websites for threats to schools through use of enhanced technology to identify threat language. Through the OSSC, intelligence analysts would conduct more thorough monitoring of online platforms for threats of impending school violence. When a threat is identified, analysts would immediately conduct a threat analysis and share the information with local law enforcement and school officials. Analysts would not monitor specific individuals.
* Review emergency management plans and implement threat assessment team training. OSSC staff members will review and assess emergency management plans and, at the request of schools, provide technical assistance to help schools strengthen their safety strategies. In addition, the OSSC staff will provide a model policy, a free training program, and guidance for schools that have a threat assessment team.
* Consolidate school safety resources in a centralized location via an enhanced website, saferschools.ohio.gov, to include resources on school safety from various state agencies including the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Department of Higher Education, Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office. The OSSC would also create a school safety collaborative partner database to communicate training opportunities, meetings, promotional materials, model policies, and resources on a monthly basis.
* Host an annual school safety summit where school safety, public safety, and mental health professionals can share best practices, training, and resources with schools and community leaders from across the state. The conference, hosted by the OSSC, would focus on physical security, mental health, school climate, critical incident response, and treat assessment.
Governor DeWine’s executive order also includes the creation of the Ohio School Safety Working Group, which will consist of experts in the fields of public safety, education, mental health, emergency management, and others. The group will meet quarterly to discuss current issues and trends regarding school safety and local needs and would assist with the development of a yearly report on the state of school safety in Ohio.
Governor DeWine appreciates the leadership of State Senator Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) and State Representative Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) in introducing school safety legislation and anticipates working with them as they advance their shared vision to enhance the safety of Ohio’s schools. Governor DeWine believes the OSSC is a key tool to achieving more secure schools.
The OSSC is the latest in a series of school safety initiatives launched by Governor DeWine over the last decade.
As part of the 2019-2020 biennium operating budget signed this year, the state is investing $675 million in wrap-around services for schools to design individualized programs, working with local mental health providers or social service organizations, to address the social and emotional challenges students face. Governor DeWine has also directed the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to begin working with communities to increase knowledge of risk factors and help parents identify when their child is showing warning signs of a mental illness.
While serving as Ohio’s Attorney General, he provided training to thousands of educators and law enforcement officers on preparing for and responding to active shooter threats. He also worked with schools across the state to achieve greater compliance on school safety plans and convened a School Safety Task Force that issued dozens of school safety recommendations.
In 2018, he launched a program to assist law enforcement with aerial photos of schools for inclusion in emergency school safety plans and developed an educator’s guide promoting coordination between schools and law enforcement in an effort to prepare for and react to a violent school incident. He also awarded $12 million in grants to schools across the state to help pay for enhancements to school safety and security.