TB File Photo Children at Jefferson Elementary play on the jungle gym in this file photo. Playground equipment like that shown here had to adhere to strict, sometimes unrealistic standards under Jarod’s Law which is being repealed by Ohio lawmakers.
TB File Photo Children at Jefferson Elementary play on the jungle gym in this file photo. Playground equipment like that shown here had to adhere to strict, sometimes unrealistic standards under Jarod’s Law which is being repealed by Ohio lawmakers.
From wire and staff reports

An Ohio law prompted by the accidental death of a first grader is being repealed, just two years after it was enacted in an effort to increase the safety of school children.

Jarod's Law will no longer be enforced as of Oct. 16, said Kristopher Weiss, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health. A provision repealing the law was inserted by the Senate into the state budget bill that passed last month.

That is good news for local school districts who have been struggling with finding ways to meet all the requirements of the law. The measure was named after 6-year-old Jarod Bennett, who suffered a skull fracture in December 2003 when a folded-up, 290-pound cafeteria table fell on him as another boy wheeled it in an elementary school gymnasium in Lebanon in southwest Ohio.

But Jarod's Law itself dealt with far more than just cafeteria tables, setting up new and sometimes unrealistic requirements for school districts to meet.

"It goes into bleachers, making such signage is in place, just a lot of things. While there is nothing wrong with standards, and we want to be safe as well, but some of it was a little bit unrealistic," stated Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz. "The costs that were associated with most of the changes in the law were certainly not things we have ever planned for. I think we do a nice job of making sure our playgrounds, our buildings and all of our areas are safe, however there is a point of common sense when you deal with those things. I think this law did not have common sense."

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill in 2005, and it was signed into law by then-Gov. Bob Taft. It required county health commissioners to inspect schools for possible hazards from equipment, such as tables, desks and bleachers, along with prior requirements to inspect for potential disease-causing problems in food service and heating and air systems. The law also reduced inspections from twice to once a year.

"We will be reverting back to what was done prior to Jarod's Law when local health departments were to do twice annual sanitary school inspections. There are no rules or standards for what those inspections adhere to," said Kristopher Weiss, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health

"This does take some pressure off the schools," agreed Crestview Local Schools Superintendent Mike Estes. "It would have beens difficult and a financial hardship to meet all the requirements if the law had stayed in place."

Crestview is in the midst of a renovation project, and Estes confirmed that the regulations from Jared's Law had made an impact on the plan and the budget, but he did not have the figures on how big that impact was.

Since the law was passed, some local boards of health complained that the state did not provide funds to implement the changes and some districts expressed concern that changes required were unreasonable and costly.

The health department recommends that local boards continue to use a school inspection manual that is part of Jarod's Law, but it is no longer required. With the repeal, schools also will not have to file plans that show how they will fix problems found during inspections, Weiss said.

At Lincolnview, Superintendent Doug Fries noted that he had no problem with inspections, but that the repeal would clear up a lot of paperwork. "We always want to do everything we can to maintain safety. We like to think that we inspect a lot on our own of our building and grounds and try to keep things in good shape," he expressed. "They had to do a lot of paperwork, and we had to do a lot of follow-up paperwork, where now it's back to getting quotes on what you need to do and just move on it. It should speed the process up when there is something wrong."

Jarod's parents, James and Jennifer, were instrumental in getting the law passed. A Web site the family created after the child's death was not operating Thursday, and a message seeking comment was left at a listing in Lebanon. State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who backed the repeal, did not immediately return a call for comment.

The repeal was added into the Senate version of the bill without adequate time for public discussion, said Beth Bickford, executive director of the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners.

"A lot of work and time went into passing Jarod's Law. It didn't seem fair it got tossed out at the last minute," she said.

She said ongoing discussions with the health department aimed at revising the rules would have resolved many of the concerns.

Schools had said the inspections were helpful in identifying priorities, but many did not have the money to make non-urgent changes right away, she said.

Amstutz clarified that the local officials had been helpful in the inspection process. "Our Health Department has been very good to work with," he confirmed. "They have worked with us on things that are sort of unrealistic being able to do. While the law is cumbersome and certainly out of bounds, our Health Department has done a nice job of working with us."

Overall Amstutz noted that there was a benefit to Jarod's Law, but that benefit was weighted down by the extreme nature of the regulations. "It heightened us to look for safety issues, but on the flipside there just wasn't a reasonableness about doing it and the cost that is associated with it."