The Worthington school board meeting June 11 was the site of a lively debate similar to that being held at many school districts across the nation: Should there be armed school-resource officers in the district's two high schools?
Worthington Schools Assistant Superintendent Randy Banks presented to the board the district's safety improvements for next fall.
Three more mental-health specialists are being hired, bringing the total to six. Phone reception also will be beefed up in buildings so that staff cellphones can reach 911. Sharon and Perry Township police will get key fobs that will give them entry to the locked buildings.
Students also will take part in the Sandy Hook Promise program, which is about relationship building and making sure that students aren't socially isolated.
But the controversial point was the idea of placing armed officers in the school buildings. No vote was taken, but the debate volleyed back and forth.
When board member Nikki Hudson questioned him, Banks said he has gone through active-shooter training many times and district officials have learned about local emergency response times.
"It's actually well below the average nationwide," Banks said.
Having an officer in a school cuts that down below a minute -- and not just for a shooting, but for any traumatic injury.
Banks said he has gotten messages from the public in the double digits advocating arming teachers.
"I don't feel comfortable with that," he said.
Worthington is among the few districts in the area that doesn't have school resource officers, he said, and staff members are beginning to expect that security measure.
Banks told the board that the cost hasn't been finalized, but he estimates that it would be less than $200,000 a year.
Five community members spoke during the public comments to object to the possibility of school-resource officers, saying a better use of the funds would be more mental-health services or alternative discipline methods.
"There is no research that shows that SROs make our kids safer," said Kimberly Jordan, a district mother who also runs the Justice for Children Clinic at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. She said it just leads to more vulnerable students -- minorities and those with disabilities -- into more encounters with the court system for transgressions that normally would have been handled by school staff.
Sarah Biehl, an attorney who has worked on children's issues, said she has seen very little to suggest safety from officers but definitely data to show harm.
"I'm hesitant to make our children the test case for something we're not sure about," said Biehl.
"What we do know is that arrests go up.
"Anyone who deals with middle-schoolers knows that it's their job to try to make adults angry ... We see far too many of those kids who make adults angry down at juvenile court."
Thomas Worthington principal Pete Scully spoke up in support, saying he had been reluctant initially to bring in SROs because of worries for students of color, those with disabilities "and, frankly, undocumented students."
But after weighing it and talking to colleagues in other high schools, he trusts that the continued training and expertise of SROs would make the building safer.
"The wrong person in that position would be really difficult ... for our kids and our staff," Scully said. "We have to monitor how our kids are feeling."
Kilbourne High School principal Aric Thomas, who was not at the June 11 meeting, expressed his support for the idea with a letter to the board.