Lawmakers, state officials push efforts to allow door barricading devices in schools

    • Two statewide efforts are looking to bring Ohio’s fire and building codes up to speed with the door-barricading devices many school districts have purchased and equipped inside their building to keep students safe against intruders.

       

      The Bearacade, a non-electric apparatus that slides underneath a door and bolts to the floor, is one such device that was designed by a pair of Hudson fathers following the February 2012 Chardon High School shootings.

       

      The Madison and Mentor school districts have not only purchased and equipped these devices in their schools, but played a role in testing and launching the product to a North-American customer base last June. Since then, the product has been sold to schools, businesses and insitutions in all 50 states and parts of Canada. And a little more than a dozen of the partners are in Ohio, said Bearacade Co-Founder and CEO Bill Cushwa.

       

      But in its home state, the device as well as other barricading devices have been placed in question over whether they are allowed to be used at all.

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      Much of that started back in late February when the Ohio Board of Building Standards rejected a Licking County school district’s variance request to use barricade door devices of another brand and design in their schools.

       

      Local authorities are in charge of interpreting the code for enforcement, but many school and fire officials saw the action as a ruling against the legality of barricade devices.

       

      The board’s building code and state Fire Marshal code has long prohibited door locks, latches and barricade devices that “require special knowledge or skills,” or “requires multiple steps to disengage.”

       

      The code points to a photo of the Bearacade-branded device as one of a handful of examples of non-code complying hardware. Cushwa stresses that because the code doesn’t explicitly say why or how his device is in violation, it leaves interpretation to local authorities.

       

      Nevertheless, he as well as many local safety and school leaders want to see the code changed.

       

      And it may change this year, either internally by the Building Standards Board or by state lawmakers.

       

      “Ohio is a little bit behind the times as far as addressing this issue,” Cushwa said, adding that 10 other states have granted building code exemptions on devices like his for certain dire circumstances.

       

      Back in March, Andre Porter, then-director of Ohio Department of Commerce, issued a letter to the Building Standards Board about examining its code regarding school buildings.

       

      Matt Mullins, a spokesman for the department, said the board has launched a committee on this requested task and is scheduled to draft a report on the subject by July 24.

       

      That report could lead to a policy change to allow Bearacade devices in both the fire and building codes, he said. In its information gathering process, the board held an April 17 public hearing on the issue and has another one scheduled for June 5, Mullins said.

       

      State legislation that proposes to add an exemption in the code for such barricading devices, is also taking testimonies.

       

      House Bill 114 and Senate Bill 125 were introduced in March, and on April 29, the House version received testimony from seven proponents, including Cushwa and former Mentor Fire Chief Richard Harvey.

       

      Mentor Fire Chief Bob Searles recently told the News-Herald he also would’ve given proponent testimony if he didn’t have other commitments scheduled then.

       

      “The fire code was developed for good reasons but times have changed and so has our way of thinking,” Searles said. “School violence is something we need to be prepared for and it’s a priority in our community.”

       

      He said city departments like his and the Mentor School District have spent “hundreds and hundreds of hours” in designing a safety response system, and the Bearacade devices represents one portion of that system.

       

      Searles said the devices are better than stacking furniture against doors to prevent an active shooter from coming into a classroom.

       

      “The Bearacade allows immediate control of the door and it allows access to that room for a person who needs medical treatment,” he said, adding the portion of the device that peeks out of the bottom of the door frame also helps responders identify which rooms are in lockdown from the hallway.

       

      The bills are sitting in their respective committees, and despite their youth, there’s a chance they could pass into law before the Building Standards Board takes action on the issue, said state Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, in a phone interview.

       

      Roegner and state Rep. Heather Bishoff, D-Blacklick, introduced the house bill version together. Roegner said so far she has not heard of any opposition to amending the state’s building and fire codes to give door barricading devices an exemption. She stressed that the legislation won’t be waiting to see what the board does.

       

      “These are two independent efforts looking at the same goal and I think this is a great thing,” Roegner said.

       

      Meanwhile, the school districts in Mentor and Madison have not taken any Bearacade devices off their classrooms walls.

       

      Madison Schools Deputy Superintendent Angela Smith told the News-Herald that faculty have been shown how to use the devices, but the devices haven’t been employed during any of their drills.

       

      “I am hoping the new law passes, and more importantly, I am hoping we never need to use them,” Smith said. “I want them to be the world’s best dust collectors.”

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