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Ohio bill defining school resource officers, mental health training heads to Kasich

July 5, 2018 | By Kristi Garabrandt

A state bill defining the role of a school resource officer, or SRO for short, and implementing guidelines for school safety and mental health training has been sent to the governor to sign into law.

The bill, introduced by state Sens. John Patterson and Sarah LaTourette, passed the Senate unanimously on June 6, and then was approved by the House in a 71-20 vote on June 27. It will become law if signed by Gov. John Kasich.

The bill provides a definition of what an SRO is along with a description, responsibilities and training guidelines, which will now allow for some type of funding for their training.

“Having the definition and knowing the value of school safety there could now be a line item in the budget for school safety,” said Patterson, whose goal along with that of the Coach Frank Hall Foundation is to have an SRO and mental health professional in every school. “There are serious conversations happening now of school resource officers and mental health counseling being factored into the base cost of educating students. This hasn’t happened before and I think you will see a change in the state budget focus with respect to that challenge.

The schools that already have an SRO are grandfathered in, but going forward if a school decides to hire an SRO or if the state decides to fund one then the training and responsibilities have all been laid out under the bill, Patterson said.

Patterson also noted that a school can still hire its own safety or security forces if that is the route they choose, but if they are going to hire a school resource officer they will have to follow the guidelines laid out in the bill.

Patterson had noted in a previous interview that it is imperative for SROs and mental health professionals to work together to ensure a safe school environment.

According to the senator, the bill is supported by the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who want to keep the kids in school.

The opposition from the House came from an amendment to the bill over in the Senate, which added an additional $2 million in funding onto the $12 million already written into the bill, Patterson said.

“We are talking about a $14 million package here,” the senator said.

Initially, there were only two votes against the SRO bill, but that increased to 20 because some of the House members objected to an amendment — Sen. Peggy Lehner’s bill about expulsion for kindergarten through third grade — that had not been heard in the House though it had been heard in the Senate.

“I thought it was a great bill. I don’t want those kids to get kicked out of school unless its something very serious,” Patterson said. “I just thought it was appropriate and Peggy (Lehner) asked (about adding her bill). We said, ‘Yeah, we have to keep those kids in school, too frequently they are booted out.’ ”

Patterson believes the expulsion issues factor into the mental health component that Lehner’s amendment brings to the SRO bill.

“Kids getting expelled is definitely behavioral and that is mental health so why not address that at the younger ages and keep those kids in school to improve their chances,” Patterson said. “Third grade is critical to math and reading and if they are out of school and don’t come back with the ability to read they are going to behind for a long, long time.”

The amendment would require schools to initiate a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports program and find other alternatives to out-of-school suspension or expulsion for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Patterson said Lehner’s amendment to the bill gets to the heart of the issue dealing specifically with mental health. The $2 million in funding, which will come from the State Lottery Fund, is designated as competitive grant money for the training of staff and school support personnel, so they are better able to recognize the need for and direct students to professional health counseling.

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