The county’s top law official is upping his pressure campaign against local school boards he contends aren’t doing enough to protect students.
In the weeks since the school shooting massacre at a Parkland, Fla. school, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has used social media to send a barrage of messages to local boards saying they should do more in fortifying their schools against armed attackers while urging the public to also lobby boards.
And this week, Jones said he’ll broaden his public lobbying by using roadside billboards - paid for with non-taxpayer funds - to put a spotlight on some local boards he believes are lagging in upgrading their building security.
“Soon as I can afford to buy billboards again, I’m going to put billboards up, calling out these school boards on safety,” said Jones.
For school districts who don’t improve, “I will be their worst enemy,” he said.
Some area school officials responded on Friday, saying the sheriff should use other, less public tactics to persuade publicly elected school board members.
The latest move by Jones – who has grabbed national attention for offering free Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW) training to teachers and school staffers – is an escalation of an accountability campaign the veteran sheriff has tried for years to enforce on local school systems.
After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that left 26 students and staffers slain, Jones urged schools to hire retired police and military personnel trained in firearm use to work as substitute teachers in Butler County schools.
In February he expanded on the proposal but this time offered free CCW training to school staffers.
Regardless, none of the 10 public school districts in Butler County – nor career school Butler Tech – have adopted either idea to increase the number of armed personnel in their schools beyond the armed School Resource Officers (SROs) .
The Florida shooting, which left 17 dead students and staffers, prompted his new social media and billboard strategies, Jones told this news outlet.
“These are different times. You have got to make the schools more safe,” said Jones. “It’s not rocket science.”
“When school boards say their schools are safe, to a certain degree they are telling the truth,” said Jones.
But, he added, “they are safe as they are willing to pay.”
“What the school boards do is they will pay for teachers, maintenance people and they will pay for (school) psychiatrists. But they never seem to have the money to pay for (armed) School Resource Officers (SROs),” Jones said. “Or arm some personnel in your schools.”
He praised some districts – Edgewood and Lakota in particular – for expanding their current patrols of SROs in schools, he said.
Many of the county’s school districts use armed SROs supplied by local city police departments and work closely with those local law enforcement officials.
But regardless of what police force is responsible for enforcement, some school boards are moving too slow, he complained.
So as early as May, motorists in some Butler County school systems could see billboards criticizing local school boards about what he considers inadequate, underfunded or too slowly installed school security.
“When you are looking at (saving) lives, you can’t wait,” he said of the timing.
But Lakota Board of Education member Todd Parnell – and some other area board members – said there are better ways to persuade than billboard lobbying.
“Calling out school districts in that manner is not effective,” said Parnell. “And there are probably security measures going on that he is not aware of. We are doing a lot at Lakota but we don’t talk about it publicly.”
Monroe school board member Tim Carpenter said “I have heard a lot from Sheriff Jones through social media about his contact with Butler County school boards, but I know we (Monroe Schools) haven’t been contacted.
“Perhaps if he were to contact school boards and have a candid conversation with them about school security then he would have a better understanding of the measures these schools take to protect the students,” Carpenter said of his district, which coordinates its security with Monroe Police.
In 2016, Madison Schools saw a student shoot and injure four classmates. Officials at the district said they welcome further assistance and communications with Sheriff Jones regarding school security.
“We currently have 2 SROs on our one campus. In recent years, we have added shatter proof glass to our classroom doors, a classroom barricade system, random days of using metal detecting wands,” at its interconnected schools,” said Madison Schools Spokeswoman A.J. Huff.
“However, we recognize there is always room for improvements and we encourage suggestions and further discussion from the sheriff, our staff, students, parents and community,” said Madison Schools spokesperson A.J. Huff.
Monroe Board of Education member Tim Carpenter suggested the sheriff’s lobbying efforts might be better spent elsewhere.
“A better use of the resources he is proposing to use to reach school board members would be better utilized contacting the Ohio General Assembly to request money be given to each school district specifically for school security,” said Carpenter.
“Arming teachers isn’t the answer,” he said, “because they aren’t law enforcement officers and they shouldn’t be placed in that role.”