School safety drills ignored by many Ohio schools

Many Ohio schools are ignoring, missing or not reporting school safety drills to prepare for the worst case scenario, as the law requires. (WSYX/WTTE)

Many Ohio schools are ignoring, missing or not reporting school safety drills to prepare for the worst case scenario, as the law requires.

ABC 6 / FOX 28 Investigators reviewed and uncovered gaps in school security records held by local police departments.

In Ohio, an improved 2015 law requires every school perform at least three safety drills each school year. One drill is a lockdown and the other two can include an evacuation or a secure in place scenario. Additionally, principals must conduct a theoretical school safety drill to instruct teachers and staff how to respond.

“We’ll have one every single month,” Columbus City Schools Security Director Chris Ward said. “Not only do we do the drills – we exceed the drills. We go above and beyond what’s required.”

Columbus City Schools has a staff of 50 on its safety and security team with a goal to keep schools secure and students and teachers safe.

However, blanks, gaps and missing dates were discovered when ABC 6 / FOX 28 looked at Columbus Police’s records.

Only one drill is recorded for Columbus public schools on the same date – December 21, 2015. A review of the 2015 school year shows students were not even in class that day.

Of the Catholic schools, 16 out of 22 schools failed to submit or complete drills.

Charter and private schools had more gaps with 75 percent never doing the required school safety lockdowns and evacuations.

Ohio Representative Debbie Phillips sponsored and helped get a bill passed strengthening these critical lessons that are going unchecked. The law has been in effect since March 23, 2015.

“I’m surprised,” Phillips said. “I think all of our schools should be doing this.”

Across Ohio from Cleveland to Cincinnati, there’s a lack of consistency including some schools without an action plan, others missing drills and some with very little police involvement.

The law says local police must be notified 72 hours in advance of a school safety drill. Columbus City Schools admitted it doesn’t do that.

“One of the things we’re going to be working on this year is how do we all make it come together and work for all of us,” Ward said. “I think record keeping could improve without a doubt.”

Police are supposed to send warnings and could fine schools $1,000 for not submitted safety drill logs. Columbus Police have never sent out a single warning letter and never fined a single school.

After ABC 6 / FOX 28 Investigators started asking questions, police sent out a memo to all school explaining the law and reminding local districts of a December 5th deadline to comply.

Columbus City Schools provided extensive paperwork proving it does more than the required drills. Other schools may be doing them too, however, law enforcement records have holes.

In Hilliard, at Weaver Middle School, ABC 6 / FOX 28 Investigators watched safety drills happen. Teachers trained students for the worst case scenario all while officers and administrators oversee the response and look for weaknesses. It’s all in an effort to be ready.

“As we continue to practice, as we continue to engage, we continue to get more prepared,” Hilliard Police Chief Robert Fisher said. “It’s our priority to be in the building to help staff understand if there’s something they can improve upon then we can be there and provide that information to them.”

The safety team at Hilliard Schools just increased its number or drills and amount of training this year.

“This type of training becomes second nature as we do it more and more,” Assistant Superintendent Mike McDonough said.

While drills can’t prevent trouble, they can increase the chance of surviving violent acts, starting with split-second decision to flee the building, lockdown or fight off potential attackers.

Phillips said after what we uncovered, it’s important schools make safety a priority.

“I appreciate you bringing this information and I’m going to be looking into it further,” Phillips said. “If there are things we need to do to make sure the Department of Education is getting communication out and if there’s anything we need to tighten up with respect to enforcement I’m willing to work on that.”

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