FOX19 Investigates: School safety plans

Mr. Z hugging students
Mr. Z hugging students
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

(FOX19) - Saint Vivian School, a Cincinnati Archdiocese institution that educates kids in Finneytown from pre-K to the 8th grade, is among 22 schools in the FOX19 viewing area listed by Ohio's attorney general as not filing a school safety plan with his office.

With the flag flying at half-staff outside on the school grounds, in honor of the children and educators gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Saint Vivian's principal sat behind his desk one morning this week holding a copy of the document.

"The basis of this originated in 2006," said Stephen Zinser, referred to by students here as Mr. Z. "At that time, we felt they should have had a copy. But for whatever reason they didn't."

A spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine says schools must update their plans and re-submit them every three years. Zinser e-mailed a copy to DeWine's office Monday and Saint Vivian is now in compliance, FOX19 has confirmed with DeWine's spokesman.

"There's not a day that goes by, when I walk into this building, I don't feel what can we do to keep our kids safe," Zinser said.

A monitor next to his window provides a continuous video stream from cameras at the school. His secretary also has camera feeds coming into a monitor on her desk and recently alerted him to a cab driver who'd been parked outside for a long time. In this residential neighborhood, taxis are not common --- especially near the school. It turned out to be nothing. But it shows how vigilant Tri-State educators have become following a series of mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone, including one near Cleveland.

Attorney General DeWine clearly believes armed security officers need to be posted at schools, though he says he doesn't want to intrude on local leaders' decision making process.

"I would say that I guess if I was on the school board, I think that I would think about having someone in that school who is very well trained, who has a gun under lock and key that no one can get access to but them," DeWine said in Cincinnati this week.

There are no armed officers at Saint Vivian, just teachers walking their classes to lunch and recess through the hallways. Little eyes spy Mr. Z, who's giving them a hand signal that to them means "silent hug." Some kids need a real hug and wrap their arms around his waist, smiles on their faces and his.

"These children become our own children," he said. "These children spend more time with us in school than they do with their families at home. So when I refer to them as my kids, they are my kids."

And he says he'll do all he can to protect them.

"But I think as we've learned, unfortunately, if someone wants to get into the building --- just like they did in Connecticut --- unfortunately they will get in," Zinser said.

FOX19 contacted all 22 schools in our viewing area that were on Attorney General DeWine's list, which we obtained just hours after the shootings in Newtown on Friday. Of those that got back to us, here is how they explained what led them to be labeled as non-compliant when it comes to filing a safety plan and floor plans with the attorney general:

  • The school administrator who covers both College Hill Leadership Academy and Theodore Roosevelt Public Community School says the paperwork was not submitted by the previous administrator. But he says he submitted it within the past week.
  • The Goddard School's administrator believes that it was a lack of a filed plan for his pre-school which led his institution to being listed. It is located within the same building as the school's kindergarten. He has since sent the paperwork via overnight delivery to DeWine's office.
  • A mixed-up address may have led to North College Hill Middle School being on the list, according to its administrator. He says the issue has been resolved.
  • Greater Ohio Virtual School in Warren County rarely has students in its building but it ended-up on the attorney general's list. Its administrator says he's in the process of turning-in a safety plan and floor plans to DeWine's office.
  • St. John the Baptist, part of the Cincinnati Archdiocese, is on the list because its previous administrator did not submit the required paperwork, according to the current administrator. She says she just became aware in November that the attorney general needed a copy of the plans. And she says she was in the process of refining the safety plan when the attorney general released the list last Friday.
  • Lebanon Christian School's administrator says he has now filed plans with the attorney general's office.
  • Rabbi Ezriel Dzialoszynski, dean of RITSS High School, part of the Bais Yaakov of Cincinnati, says his school submitted their paperwork on November 19th.  And he is not sure why his institution was listed.
  • Kinder Garden School in West Chester re-submitted its plans on Monday.
  • A spokesman for Cincinnati State STEM Academy tells FOX19, "The AG's list is outdated. The STEM Academy is fully compliant."

We asked a spokesman for Attorney General DeWine about that and he responded that the list provided to FOX19 only includes schools that "do not have a plan in the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG)" computer system.

"In October, our office sent letters to more than 2,000 schools which either had no plan on file or had not updated their safety plan in the past three years, as required by law," said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney. "We will continue outreach to schools that we have no record of receiving any safety plan or whose plans have not been updated within the past three years."

FOX19 did not get any response from the following institutions on the list:

Copyright 2012 WXIX. All rights reserved.