COLUMBUS — New bipartisan legislation in the Ohio House would mandate stricter security standards in newly constructed schools in hopes of preventing school shootings, its sponsors say.
House Bill 544, introduced by Reps. John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake, and Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, would require new school buildings to adopt at least two of the following six safety standards:
• Surveillance video
• Entryway metal detectors
• Direct entrance and exit routes within a classroom, to be accessed only from inside that classroom
• An effective means of communication between classrooms and the administrative offices
• A real-time notification device located within a classroom, such as a panic button, to alert local law-enforcement when a staff member encounters a dangerous situation
• A means of threat containment, which could include a barrier system to lock down a portion of a building where a threat has been identified
Rogers invoked the 1908 Collinwood school fire near Cleveland, which killed 172 students who were trapped inside the school building because of poor fire-safety standards. In the aftermath of the blaze 110 years ago, schools across the nation adopted new fire-safety standards for evacuations and construction.
States should adopt safety standards to deal with school shootings as they did after the Collinwood fire, Rogers said.
"We had this major fire where we passed all kind of laws, not only in Ohio but throughout the country," Rogers said. "You would think that, given the number of incidents that occurred, and the frequency of the occurrences, you would take steps to ensure the safety and well-being of the kids."
Current law requires that the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which sets rules and standards for state-funded construction, consider student and staff health and safety when reviewing classroom-design plans.
Commission spokesman Rick Savors said the panel currently has several safety precautions in its manual. Savors also said the commission would comply with the decision of state lawmakers.
"We’re constantly looking at ways to upgrade security," Savors said.
The bill wouldn’t require established schools to comply with the safety precautions, but rather would mandate them for new schools during the design process.
"When you have the money in place when you’re building the building, it’s a lot easier than retrofitting," Rogers said.
Gun and safety debates have been widespread nationwide since the February Florida school shooting that claimed 17 lives. According to a previous Dispatch report, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said he is expecting an Ohio bill that would provide additional funding for school-resource officers and school safety measures.
"Clearly, right now we need to take a little bit of an opportunity to review a whole gamut of things dealing with this policy," Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said. "What we’re going to do is take a step back and look at the thing holistically of areas that we need to address."
The speaker said he doubted there would be new Ohio restrictions on guns as a result of the Florida school shooting and others across the country.
(Bennett Leckrone is a fellow with the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau)