Ohio's School Safety Investments Must Support Students.

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As an Ohio citizen, I am concerned about how school safety funding in our state is spent.  School safety is a growing concern for many families across the country and in Ohio.  In July, the Ohio legislature approved HB 318, which provided $12 million in school safety funding.  

Traditionally, school safety has taken a more punitive approach – for example, an early version of HB 318 would have funded hardware like riot shields and gun lockers in schools.  Unfortunately, these measures can be harmful to students, decreasing their sense of safety and increasing fear.  Many schools also have invested in School Resource Officers (SROs).  While law enforcement can be a critical part of a school safety plan, having SROs stationed in schools can lead to unintended negative consequences, such as pushing more students (particularly Youth of Color and students with disabilities) into the courts, escalating relatively minor situations, and harming community-police relations.  

I believe there is another way.  In August, a diverse coalition of Ohio organizations, teachers, and students announced the #counselorsnotcuffs campaign.  This campaign focuses on prioritizing funding for research-based approaches to school safety by 1) improving school climates and increasing access to school-based addiction and mental health services and licensed prevention and treatment professionals, such as counselors, nurses, and social workers and 2) putting in place evidence- and research-based protocols and trainings to address threats, including creating agreements with local law enforcement to respond to emergencies. 

I Call on Ohio's Legislature and Schools to Support the #counselorsnotcuffs Campaign Principles:

1)     School shootings are not a certainty and can be prevented.

2)     Students are safest when they are positively supported by individuals trained to identify students who are struggling and have routine access to licensed and trained mental health and addiction prevention and treatment services and professionals, such as counselors, nurses, and social workers.

3)     Schools are safest when they create a positive school climate that includes trusting, respectful relationships between adults and students and a clear protocol to respond appropriately – and without over-responding – to threats.

4)     Decisions about school safety must prioritize the voices of students who are most directly impacted by violence inside and outside of school, including students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA students.

5)     Punitive approaches to school safety – such as investments in hardware (i.e. metal detectors, cameras, gun lockers) – can actually make schools and students feel less safe.  In addition, School Resource Officers are not a comprehensive solution to safety and can actually escalate situations and damage community-police relations.  SROs or armed guards do not prevent all school violence; SROs and armed guards have been present in four out of five of our nation’s most deadly school shootings.

6)     To effectively address school safety, Ohio must invest in research-based approaches, including improving school climate, establishing threat training and protocol, and providing effective student supports – like routine access to licensed and trained mental health and addiction prevention and treatment services and professionals, such as counselors, nurses, and social workers – to prevent school shootings altogether, while having emergency plans with outside law enforcement agencies in place when a rare incident does occur.