COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – An Ohio lawmaker wants to fend off school shooters and intruders by strengthening standards for classroom doors.
Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) on Tuesday – the eve of the one-year anniversary of a gunman’s fatal shooting of 19 children at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school – introduced to fellow lawmakers the Ohio Childhood Safety Act, a bill he authored to mandate the Buckeye State’s 3,100 schools to adopt stricter safety standards for their building’s interior and exterior doors.
The measure, if passed, would hold schools to the same requirements as facilities deemed “secure” under state law, like hospitals, airports and courtrooms, which Rulli said will provide students an extra line of defense against unwanted attacks.
“Don’t kids deserve the same protection as those in hospitals, airports and government buildings, and at the Statehouse where we all sit today?” he asked.
Under the act, or Senate Bill 112, schools must meet the National Fire Protection Association’s standards, whose life safety code establishes criteria for door construction materials, locking mechanisms and minimizing the spread of smoke.
Current Ohio code is largely silent on standardizing requirements for school building inspections as they pertain to doors, Rulli said. “That’s why I wrote this bill,” he added.
To ensure schools abide by the NFPA’s guidelines, the act instructs Ohio fire marshals to annually inspect school doors. Districts will have one year to assess conditions – and a second to get into compliance – but if a violation is not remedied within 18 months of being reported, the district could face a $1,000 fine.
There is one caveat: School districts would be on the hook for the costs associated with fixing or replacing their doors, as there is no financial appropriation set aside by Rulli’s act. That prompted Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) to question how districts – especially those with aging infrastructure – will afford the safety enhancements.
Rulli said he is working with the attorney general and governors’ offices to mull possible funding sources to ease individual districts’ financial burden. Districts will be able, in some cases, to extend the deadline for coming into compliance, providing ample time to adjust, he said.
About 25% of Ohio’s districts are already in compliance, Rulli said. The act is largely designed to target school buildings built before 2014, which he said were not subjected to changes made in the state’s school construction code around that time.
As for an estimated price tag, Rulli said a simple locking mechanism costs around $20, whereas fully replacing a door may cost upwards of $5,000.
“A child’s life is worth more than that,” he said.
In an ideal world, Rulli said the act would require schools to adopt bullet-proof windows, pointing to a recent Nashville gunman’s ability to break into an elementary school by shooting through two sets of glass doors. But due to cost, the bill does not address windows.
Kristi Woodworth, a volunteer with Ohio’s chapter of the gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action, said adopting stricter standards for school doors is one layer of security that could potentially keep students safe.
“But the issue is so much bigger than that,” Woodworth said. “If and when a shooter gets to the door of a classroom, we have already failed on so many levels.”
Though Woodworth said it’s hard to pinpoint a downside to bolstering door security in schools, her organization – who has yet to take a formal position on Rulli’s bill – advocates for a multi-tiered approach to rooting out gun violence in schools.
That includes enacting legislation to allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat, to mandate safe gun storage, raising the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles and background checks on gun sales, Woodworth said.
Rulli’s bill awaits additional consideration by the Senate Education Committee.