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DeWine visits IHS to talk school safety

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine made Ironton High School one of the 15 stops during his three-day trip across southern Ohio. The purpose of his visit was to discuss school safety and he praised Ironton for going about it the right way.

“A school safety plan must be filed with my office to allow anyone who may be assisting during a crisis situation to get readily familiar with a building’s layout,” DeWine said. “After the Chardon tragedy we started looking to see how schools were doing. The first thing we saw was a lot of schools never filed a plan. We started writing letters and working with people.”

Virtually every school is in compliance, DeWine said, and he took the piece of law requiring a plan be filed and decided to help schools.

“We put a working group together, of educators and others, to try and come up with a protocol of what are the best practices and what should be in that plan,” he said. “What became apparent is that it has to be a cooperative effort among the school, law enforcement and people in the community.”

Ironton’s involving the community and the fact officers train in the very building they will patrol, DeWine said, makes “so much common sense.”

“I am here to congratulate you but also want to hear some comments about what you think works and what is good,” DeWine said. “The quality of plans varies; we can always improve.”

At the start of the 2013 school year armed officers began patrolling the hallways of Ironton City Schools at a cost of $44,000 annually after approval by the board of education.

Ironton Superintendent Dean Nance and many members of the school board feel it has been money well spent.

“Not only does the measure increase students’ safety,” Nance said, “but also their attitudes toward police officers.”

An off-duty Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy patrols the high school while officers from the Ironton Police Department monitor the middle and elementary schools. The officers are armed and in uniform.

Skepticism early on from parents and students about the officers’ patrol has been replaced by optimism and, Nance said, something everyone has come to expect and appreciate.

“At first parents asked why there was a cop at the school,” Nance said. “Then it got to the point where parents would ask why he’s not there.”

DeWine on Dec. 17, 2012, released a copy of the guidelines that his School Safety Task Force created to help Ohio schools comply with the requirements to submit building school safety plans to his office.

The Attorney General’s School Safety Task Force is made up of educators, school associations, local law enforcement and first responders. The guidelines created by the task force are not mandatory, but can serve as a template for schools to create or update submitted plans.

Ohio Revised Code 3313.536 requires the board of education of each city, exempted village and local school district and the governing authority of each chartered nonpublic school to file a comprehensive school safety plan and floor plan for each school building under the board’s or governing authority’s control. This information, once filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, is made electronically available to law enforcement personnel in the event of an emergency.

“It’s just a huge collaboration in this school and I thank you for that,” Nance said. “When I had the opportunity to praise you to the attorney general I did. He said he was going to be in the area and wanted to stop and pat us on the back because this is exactly the type of thing he has pushed for.”

Bus drivers have also received hostage training.

“These are the people I was bragging to your staff about,” Nance said to DeWine.

DeWine said the ultimate goal is the safety of the children and staff and peace of mind for parents.

“Tragedies occur and they will continue to occur,” DeWine said. “But school is a safe place.”