The rise of shocking mass shootings over the last few years has brought school safety initiatives to the forefront of several legislative debates. Although we’ve seen many school safety related grants for local schools and districts, there hasn’t been many statewide legislative policy initiatives to implement school safety technologies across all schools and districts within a state. Some states, such as Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, are quickly becoming the school safety model, setting the example for others to follow.
Past & Present: Tragedy Sparks Conversation for Statewide School Safety Initiatives
When a tragedy strikes it often sparks conversations on how to prevent such an event to occur again. Everyone remembers the devastang events that occurred on September 11th, 2001, which is known to be one of the worst attacks on the United States in history. This tragedy also revealed fundamental problems with the communications systems used by our nation’s first responders. FirstNet, or the First Responder Network Authority, explains “The radio systems police, fire, and paramedics relied on could not easily operate across agencies, and during the crisis, land and mobile phone lines were overwhelmed by a high volume of calls.” Because of this, public safety organizations and associations worked together to press Congress to pass legislation to establish the FirstNet network we know today as a reliable, dedicated, and high-speed network for first responders.
A more recent tragedy was the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shocking events took place on February 14th, 2018 shook the nation. 17 people lost their lives, another 17 were injured, and the entire community was heartbroken. As the event took place, panic set in. Parents, guardians, students, and many others were calling 9-1-1 repeatedly, and some weren’t even fully aware of what was going on or if there was actually an active shooter on school grounds.
The deluge of 9-1-1 calls went to multiple 9-1-1 centers as those on campus were seeking additional information about the incident. Technology platforms that work across multiple jurisdictions are key to improving response times and getting the correct message out accordingly so those onsite can take immediate action such as run, hide, fight or evacuate. This tragedy and other mass shootings that have more recently occurred are sparking school safety conversations on what can implemented, enhanced, mandated or better funded in states across the U.S.
What is Being Mandated Statewide for School Safety
After the Parkland shooting, state officials got together to sign the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which was designed to bolster school safety by funding upgrades and outlining new requirements in areas including emergency preparedness, threat assessment and gun purchasing. “Every student in Florida has a right to learn in a safe environment, and every parent has a right to send their kids to school knowing they will return safely at the end of the day,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said during the signing. “Today I am signing bipartisan legislation that will help us achieve that.”
A 2019 Florida Statute also now requires safe-school officers at each public school. It reads as follows, “For the protection and safety of school personnel, property, students, and visitors, each district school board and school district superintendent shall partner with law enforcement agencies or security agencies to establish or assign one or more safe-school officers at each school facility within the district, including charter schools. A district school board must collaborate with charter school governing boards to facilitate charter school access to all safe-school officer options available under this section…”.
The Education Commission of the States also researched K-12 safety policies in all 50 states and put together a comprehensive report outlining state by state school safety policies. Key takeaways from this report are:
- At least 43 states and the District of Columbia require a school safety plan in statute or regulation. At least 29 states and the District of Columbia require law enforcement agencies to be involved in the creation of a school safety plan.
- At least 13 states and the District of Columbia have a statutory or regulatory requirement for a school safety audit of school facilities. At least five states require law enforcement agencies to be present in conducting this audit.
- At least 42 states require schools to conduct safety or security drills in state statute or regulation. Other states may require drills through handbooks, guides or other rules.
- At least 29 states and the District of Columbia define school resource officers in state statute or regulations. Other states may define school resource officers in handbooks, guides or other rules. At least 28 states and the District of Columbia require training, either similar to what’s required of traditional law enforcement or tailored specifically for school resource officers.
Why Adopting Statewide School Safety Initiatives is Beneficial
Statewide policies, especially in the area of technology for school safety are extremely beneficial as they offer scalable and uniform solutions that protect our most vulnerable across all hazards, not just the active shooter threat. For example, the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas have invested in panic button technology statewide to improve school safety for all types of incidents that occur in K12 schools, including the more common medical emergency to the more extreme active shooter. Oklahoma recently invested in mobile app panic button technology which is launching this fall for 537 school districts across the state. “Oklahoma is very interested in prioritizing student safety, and has been doing so for a long time,” Corcoran told EdScoop, adding that the app had been met with “really enthusiastic interest” from all sides.
In this instance, having one panic button solution in place to touch everyone and everything creates impeccable interoperability. This technology allows seamless communication across multiple jurisdictions on the local, state, and even federal levels, while also enabling those on site and first responders to more easily coordinate appropriate emergency response. Using one platform across the state also allows for easier training amongst all the different school safety stakeholders improving preparedness, standardization of technology that is vetted and US Safety Act Certified by the US Department of Homeland Security, as well as a producing a better return on investment due to economies of scale.
What Can Hold You Back from Statewide School Safety Initiatives?
Although statewide school safety initiatives appear to be a great solution to combat school safety threats, there are often challenging budget issues and limited funding nuances involved. States often have many requests ranging from school safety to complex structural budget and political issues to resolve during a legislative session. There are also debates on how intrusive school safety solutions should be when it comes to monitoring, metal detectors, and video cameras, as well as debates on arming teachers. Block grants are also popping up in many states, which permit localities the ability to apply for and implement school safety projects on their own. Some of these grants could be for the hardening of the campus, clear backpacks, access controls, door stoppers, school resource officers, panic button applications, and more.
So, what are the next steps?
School safety initiatives and discussions are not just for the schools themselves. They include a collaborative effort with law enforcement, 9-1-1, public safety, legislative leadership, executive agencies, education officials, associations and other who seek a voice to improve safety. Innovative policy and leadership can help bridge the gap between all of the different stakeholders to help implement proven school safety technologies statewide that work for all emergencies, like what was done in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Do you want to start the process? Reach out to one of our school safety experts today.
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