School safety bill becomes job one for General Assembly

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A comprehensive school safety bill was introduced Wednesday in the State Senate, which lawmakers have made the top priority of the General Assembly.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who chaired a 16-member House and Senate working group that travelled across the state to meet with all groups involved in the school safety issue over an eight-month period, is sponsor of the measure, which he says has four main sections: personnel, systems and structures, a culture of student connection and accountability.

He explained the need for the bill on the floor of the Senate.

“One year ago this month, the fabric of our security, the security of our children, our grandchildren and our school districts, were torn apart with the deadly shooting on January 23 at Marshall County High School.”

“This was not the first school shooting in the commonwealth and I will not stand here and predict that the Marshall County tragedy will be the last, because unfortunately we live in a society where evil exists an evil that no piece of legislation can truly prevent from happening,” Wise said.

The personnel aspect of the bill:

–Establishes a state goal of providing more School Resource Officers and mental health professionals in our schools (as soon as practicable, as funds and qualified personnel are available). This is a balanced approach of ‘hardening and softening schools’ while also taking cost and practicality issues into account of finding and then compensating enough qualified individuals.

–Requires districts to appoint a district-level “school safety coordinator” who will receive a common state training, and administer local school safety training, recommenced structures & protocols, and a school safety threat assessment team.

–Requires certain personnel, by Sept. 15, 2019, and every subsequent year, to receive standardized training on responding to active shooter situations.

Under systems and structure, the bill:

–Requires the Kentucky Department of Education, after collaborating with the Center for Safe Schools, the Department of Criminal Justice Training at EKU, and Kentucky State Police, to make available to each local school district an anonymous reporting tool or “tipline.”

— Deters hoaxes and fake threats that are traumatizing, disruptive, and costly, by more explicitly criminalizing this activity (as part of 2nd degree terroristic threatening). School leaders will be required to provide notice on this provision to students and parents, to enhance the deterrence effect. This notice will also include information on the particular hotline/tipline used by the district for anonymous reporting of safety concerns

The culture of student connection includes:

–Requiring suicide prevention awareness information to all students in grades 6-12, and a minimum of one hour of high-quality suicide prevention training, including the recognition of signs and symptoms of mental illness, shall be required for all staff employed by the local board of education whose duties require direct contact with students.”

–Adopts a  state goal, beginning July 1, 2021, of having mental health professionals in schools, one per every 1500 students, as funds are available.

— By July 1, 2020, requires the local school board to develop a plan to adopt trauma-informed approaches in schools, including establishment of a trauma-informed school team, community awareness, assessment of school climate, adjusted discipline policies, and collaboration with local law enforcement agencies to confidentially communicate with the district about a child who has been identified at the scene of a traumatic event.

Under accountability, the bill:

–Creates a new position of “state school security marshal,” who will be hired by and report to the Commissioner of the DOCJT.  The Marshal shall function similarly as the state fire marshal by enforcing safety compliance.  The Marshal shall at least annually present a report to the KCSS Board about his/her findings and recommendations.  The position will be similar to State Fire Marshall.

–Establishes sanctions for schools that fail to comply with submitting safety risk assessments or for correcting safety deficiencies.

–Requires the Education Accountability and Assessment Review Subcommittee to study school guidance counselors’ time spent on student support versus other administrative duties.

Wise, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the panel will not take up the bill this week.

“I will do exactly what was done during the interim and allow the process to continue to take place.  I welcome input and ideas from my colleagues in my Caucus and across party lines, as well as continued input from all shareholders from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

 “This issue is too important to our children, to our grandchildren, and our school personnel across the commonwealth, to not work together in achieving passage.”

The bill has been designated Senate Bill 1, reflecting its importance, although Senate President Robert Stivers noted it could be called “General Assembly Bill 1,” since it is the top priority of both the House and Senate.

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