A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: School Safety and Resiliency Act lays groundwork for secure schools, safer students

There are very few Kentuckians who do not remember how they felt when they heard of last year’s shooting at Marshall County High School. As parents who share a strong passion for education, this tragedy shook us to the core.

Sen. Max Wise

As legislators, we realized that our state had to do more to prevent school violence, not only to protect potential victims, but also to recognize warning signs and provide services to potential perpetrators. With the 2019 Regular Session coming to a close, it is our hope that this session will be defined by our response to the tragedy at Marshall County High School, the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

This transformative measure passed into law as Senate Bill 1 and is the result of months of work by the School Safety Working Group. This collaborative group spent the better part of 2018 traveling across Kentucky to gather feedback on the best practices for school safety. Members sought out expertise from stakeholders, including educators, students, parents, mental health professionals, and law enforcement. The result is a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach aimed at reversing the troubling trend of violence in our schools.

The working group thoroughly reviewed existing school safety processes across the state, noting what works. While many of our school districts have already started the process of implementing heightened security in their facilities, SB 1 raises the bar.

This pivotal measure lays the groundwork for us to do more to protect Kentucky’s children. It creates a statewide goal of placing a trained law enforcement officer in every school in the form of a school resource officer. Steps to address our children’s mental and behavioral health needs are also included in SB 1, as well as means of fostering a culture of community and connection.

Rep. Bam Carney

The bill also includes a provision that aims to provide more school counselors, including a specific goal of one counselor for every 250 students and stipulating that a majority of their time be devoted directly to services for our children.

SB 1 hardens the targets of our schools, while increasingly preparing our school personnel for emergency situations and intervention by requiring active shooter training and more suicide prevention training. This legislation also takes a thoughtful approach to provide more accountability and oversight, including the establishment of a statewide school safety marshal to ensure that local districts have the support they need to comply with the initiatives we are putting into law.

We are under no illusion that this bill is a solution for all of the problems plaguing our society, but, it is step one in a larger framework to address this issue, and will be followed by step two when we sit down next year to write a new state budget. Moving forward, we are committed to providing the funding necessary to bring our goals to fruition, which will require building on the $13 million already allocated in the current budget for school safety needs.

The School Safety and Resiliency Act is a great example of what we can accomplish for our commonwealth through bipartisan cooperation, as both parties and both legislative chambers came together to do the right thing for our children’s safety. We are proud of this extraordinary accomplishment, and sincerely hope that the bill’s passage provides a template for governing moving forward.

Rep. John “Bam” Carney is the Majority Floor Leader in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville chairs the Senate Education Committee.

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