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School safety act needs to pass

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

In just the first few days of the 2019 General Session, Kentucky lawmakers have filed an impressive bill aimed at improving school safety measures.

In fact, lawmakers have said the bill is the top priority in this year’s session.

After a year of contention surrounding pension reform, it is refreshing to see lawmakers hit the ground running with a policy to protect Kentucky’s students, teachers and school administrators.

Senate Bill 1, the “School Safety and Resiliency Act,” was filed Wednesday. It calls for creating a statewide school security marshal, requires suicide prevention training for school staff and hiring more resource officers and mental health professionals at schools.

The bill was drafted by a 16-member group established after a shooting at Marshall County High School, where two students were killed and 18 others were injured.

This bill is the best example of responding to a crisis in a timely and efficient manner we’ve seen from the legislature in years.

As the frequency of school shootings continued to rise each year, we began to see a disturbing pattern: Public outrage followed by political inaction.

Following the Marshall County shooting, school districts across the state decided not to wait for politicians to act and began enacting policies of their own.

While we praise these measures taken at the local level, establishing this bill will create a framework to help local school districts make positive changes to their safety policies.

The bill’s key sponsor, Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsvile), released a summary of the bill, which he contends would:

• Improve training of school resource officers under the direction of the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training.

• Adopt goals of providing more school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools “as soon as practicable as funds and qualified personnel are available.”

• Require districts to provide a school safety director to administer local school safety training.

• Require certain school personnel receive annual training on responding to active shooter situations.

• More explicitly criminalize hoaxes and threats to schools by making such behavior a crime of second-degree terroristic threatening. 

• Provide suicide prevention awareness information to all students in grades six through 12 by video or live presentation.

• Require at least one hour of suicide prevention training for staff whose duties require contact with students.

• Create the statewide position of “school security marshal,” who would enforce school safety law much as the state fire marshal oversees fire safety law. This official would make annual school safety reports with findings and recommendations.

This bill sufficiently addresses a wide array of concerns around school safety, touching on mental health, handling threats, providing better education and training for staff and establishing other priorities.

The bill also sends a message that lawmakers value the public’s input in making these policies, as it was developed from numerous public forums, surveys of school employees and contributions from people on all sides of issues — parents, teachers, law enforcement, mental health providers and students.

All of that input makes this bill relatively comprehensive, but leaves plenty of room for growth as schools, administrators and lawmakers learn more about what is necessary to ensure the utmost safety of our children.

Of course, as lawmakers have pointed out, the effectiveness of the bill will bank entirely on funding, which won’t be sought until the next budget year, which will be 2020.

We encourage legislators on both sides of the aisle to continue looking at this bill in a bipartisan fashion, pass it and then ensure it gets the needed funding in the next two-year budget plan.