Ohio Becomes First State to Pass SAVE Students Act

A diverse group of students celebrate Say Something in their school gymnasium. These students from Chardon High School were among the first in Ohio to hold Say Something, back when the program launched in 2015.

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It started as a grassroots effort in church basements and community centers to keep our children safe. Less than five years later, Ohio set the national standard for protecting youth. They became the first state to pass the Safety and Violence Education (SAVE) Students Act.

From the rural communities of Ohio to large urban centers, Sandy Hook Promise met in small gatherings with local leaders. We held conversations with teachers, school administers and City Councils. We talked about empowering students, teaching the warning signs, and stopping the violence in our schools before it happens.

On The Ground

“We drove throughout Ohio, talking to just about anyone who would listen to our message,” said Annie Stephens, an Ohio native and regional manager for Sandy Hook Promise. “Our hope was to spread more awareness about our programs and the positive impact they can make. Ohio is a diverse state politically, but there is one thing we all have in common, keeping our children safe.”

The more people learned about programs, the more they began to listen.

“In the early days there some skeptical looks and arms crossed,” Stephens said. “But when we explained what we do, how we try to stop the violence before anyone even picks up a gun, their shoulders would relax.”

One by one, schools began adopting Say Something. Instead of just interacting with the program, educators began to see the positive changes in their school environments. They saw student-led efforts to create a more inclusive culture,  and successful interventions that prevented school shootings and saved lives. Word began to spread among school leaders from community to community, and before long entire districts were adopting the program.

In 2016, there were 200 schools that were participating in Start With Hello.  Today, there are more than one million students and adults in Ohio alone who have been trained in our programs.

SAVE Students Act Becomes Law

Educators and other local leaders who saw the value in our programs became advocates at the state level, calling for legislation that would help to keep our students safe from violence.

The Ohio state legislature introduced the SAVE Students Act last year with overwhelming, bipartisan support.

“There were a few members of the legislature who were skeptical at first,” said Liz Murphy, the policy director for Sandy Hook Promise. “But they liked that we were approaching violence from the education side and wanted to hear what we had to say. That allowed us to start the conversations. We may not have always agreed on gun safety policy, but at least we could sit down and talk about suicide and violence prevention education.”

Those efforts culminated this week when Gov. Michael DeWine signed the act into law.

The act ensures that all middle and high school students in Ohio have access to evidence-based programs in schools that teach how to recognize social isolation, identify the signs of potential violence and suicide, and when and how to reach out for help. Students can participate in programs digitally or in-person at no cost. 

“As a retired teacher, I want to do everything I can to ensure that our children are in a safe environment,” said Ohio state Rep. Gayle Manning, a champion of the legislation. “I am pleased to see this move forward as this bill takes several steps to make sure school safety is a priority in our education system throughout Ohio.”

Now that Ohio has taken the lead, we hope other states will follow. Learn more about state-level violence prevention legislation through our sister organization, the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund. You’ll see how our model school safety legislation helps and find out how you can get involved.