Lawmakers propose new ‘self-defense’ high school graduation requirement


COLUMBUS — New legislation from Ohio state Reps. Tom Young, R-Washington Township, and Andrea White, R-Kettering, would require next year’s class of high school freshmen to take a course on recognizing and responding to threatening situations in order to graduate. The idea for the so-called “Student Protection Act” came from a number of recent high school graduates as part of an extracurricular project.

Abby Purdy described how the proposal came from conversations she had with fellow Olentangy High School students Sydney Schultz and Vaidehi Patel about walking to their cars after work in the dark.

“Everyone had very similar fears, and it kind of just sprouted from there,” Purdy explained. “We had a survey and many of the responses conveyed the same fears and we felt that self-defense would be the best way to help people feel that they have the tools to protect themselves.”

Patel, Purdy and Schultz repeatedly invoked the idea of self-defense, as did the bill’s sponsors, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Speaking afterward, Young acknowledged they struggled with how best to describe the course’s aims, but he was clear they’re not envisioning some sort of martial arts training.

“No, this is not Tae Kwon Do, throwing people across a mat or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s raising an awareness on how to prevent and then respond to an aggressive situation — mentally, and perhaps a way to get out of a situation.”

Rep. White emphasized the importance of teaching students how to respond to bullying and assault.

“These behaviors should never be tolerated or allowed to go unreported,” she said. “And reinforcing this message with our young people while equipping them with the defensive tactics and proactive strategies that they can use to help protect themselves and avoid dangerous situations is critical.”

Although the measure isn’t explicitly meant to teach students how to respond to a school shooting, last week’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas looms large. Young offered hopes that the coursework they’re proposing might discourage violence indirectly.

“I would hope that this would not only raise awareness to prevent things happening to yourself and how to de-escalate, but also hopefully being aware of their classmates or somebody who’s struggling, that it opens up a dialog.”

Young and White want districts to bring in school resource officers or certified self-defense instructors to provide demonstrations of self-defense. The legislation is silent, however, on who qualifies as an outside instructor or what form their demonstrations should take. Because the course will be part of the health class, teachers will also have to complete a course in self-defense training, but it’s up to the districts to determine which programs qualify.

By Nick Evans

Ohio Capital Journal

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.

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