Ohio House Reviews School Safety Drills Bill

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State Rep. Debbie Phillips announced the introduction of a new School Safety Drills bill to the Ohio House of Representatives during a press conference Friday.

Members of the Athens Police Department and the Athens City School District attended to discuss the proposals of the new bill.

Currently, Ohio Revised Code requires schools perform nine fire drills and one school safety drill annually. The school safety drill is also required to be a lockdown drill.

The proposal Phillips drafted requests a revision of the section that requires five fire drills and four safety drills annually. Additionally, the new bill eliminates the lockdown requirement of the safety drills, which law enforcement says is beneficial because it allows more flexibility.

Phillips said the discussion for the bill surfaced between members of Athens City Council and APD after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

“These are tough conversations,” Phillips said. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can.”

Officer Ron Books, who teaches classes with the city’s ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training Institute, said the bill is broad enough to allow school staff the ability to design a plan that works best for them.

“This bill will help us train better,” Brooks said. “Basically, it just expands the tools in the toolbox. That’s the way we like to look at it.”

Brooks also referenced the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., as a tragedy to learn from.

“The way we responded to those types of incidents just was not adequate,” he said.

Captain of Police Ralph Harvey Jr. also spoke about the importance of school staffs being equipped with a variety of response methods.

“Up until the last few years, the conventional wisdom was ‘hide where you’re at,’” he said. “We want people to know what else to do.”

Harvey said that while the new bill is districtwide, there will be variations in how schools choose to implement the safety drills. He said this is dependent on the crisis’ circumstances, training methods of the school’s staff and the layout of the school building. Should the bill pass, Harvey said the safety drills and staff training will begin this fall.

Additionally, Phillips said the city’s budget proposal requests grant funding for compatible radio equipment to improve communication in crisis situations.

Phillips said she doesn’t anticipate very much opposition from the House for the school safety drill bill, which she expects to pass in a couple weeks.

City Council Third Ward Rep. Michele Papai also spoke about the bill’s proactive, innovative nature.

“It’s a problem-solving approach,” she said.