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As teachers prepare to return, safety remains a concern

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Posted at 5:40 PM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 18:58:49-04

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — As teachers across Northeast Ohio get ready to return to the classroom, many will do so with concerns about school safety.

The Ohio Education Association, which represents 120,000 teachers and education support professionals across the state, conducted focus groups with members at the end of last school year. While school safety has been a concern for some time, the organization’s president, Scott DiMauro, said the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, put a spotlight on those concerns.

“When you see that kind of mass killing, it really struck a nerve, I think, with a lot of our members,” said DiMauro.

Especially, he believes, after what has been a trying last few years for educators.

“This is coming on the heels of the pandemic at a time when we’re hearing more and more that members are concerned about the mental health and well-being of their students,” said DiMauro.

For longtime Independence Middle School teacher Jill Wagner, it all became too much.

After 39 years in the classroom, Wagner retired last month.

“Yeah, it will be saddening,” said Wagner. “I don’t know if you’re trying to get me to cry, but I’m holding it in.”

It’s a decision the English teacher wrestled with since the images from Uvalde flashed across her TV on May 24.

“I mean goosebumps, looking back on those videos, hearing the gunshots and then knowing that that could happen,” said Wagner. “That’s a student. That’s someone’s daughter or son. I don’t even know the word for it. I was done when I saw those little kids being killed. I was very, very saddened.”

The continued safety concerns come months after Ohio passed a law allowing school districts to permit teachers to carry guns in the classroom with just 24 hours of training.

RELATED: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signs bill allowing teachers, staff to carry guns in schools

It’s a move that supporters predicted would improve school safety.

“I'm committed to continuing to do all we can to be a resource for teachers, administrators and other school staff to help protect our kids,” said Governor Mike DeWine in June.

But a survey of 87 Northeast Ohio school districts found that of the 38 districts that said board members made a decision about arming teachers, only one school district, Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools in Tuscarawas County, planned to allow guns in the classroom.

Search for your school district below to see how they responded:

OEA’s DiMaruo, who opposed the bill, said rather than restoring a feeling of safety, the plan adds to teachers’ frustrations.

“A lot of people are saying that’s the final straw,” said DiMauro. “That is the epitome of making decisions without truly considering what the needs and the interests of educators are.”

He worries that unless state lawmakers increase and sustain funding in areas like mental health services for students and school resources officers, more teachers will follow Wagner and walk away from the classroom for good.

“It just seems rampant now,” said Wagner. “If you’re a young person and you have mental illness or issues with schools, you want to blame someone, you just go to a school to kill someone.”