Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday urged representatives of the Federal Commission on School Safety to address the impact of mobile devices in the hands of young people who might also be diagnosed with mental problems and prescribed mind-altering drugs.
“We’ve got devices that are contributing significantly to a lack of sleep, lack of self worth, lack of self-esteem…. on top of that we have increasing numbers of kids on psychotropic drugs and we are not being intentional or thoughtful about the impact of those mind altering drugs…” Bevin said.
Bevin and Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis were among those who on Tuesday talked about school safety in Kentucky in a national roundtable discussion with representatives of the Federal Commission on School Safety meeting in Lexington.
In March, after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump established the Federal Commission on School Safety. The commission’s goal is to provide recommendations and best practices, officials said. Tuesday’s discussion, part of a three-part listening session at the Council of State Governments’ headquarters building, was the Commission's second meeting.
Bevin said a cell phone was a “very, very, very dangerous tool in the hands of young people.”
“I don’t say that lightly or flippantly,” he said.
Bevin said young people in particular were becoming desensitized to violence.
“We are arming children with a device” that leads to self-doubt, depression, and greater ideas of self-harm, he said. Bevin said when children are diagnosed with a mental imbalance and medicated, that can compound the problem.
“And then we are shocked, for reasons that are beyond me that children act out in this way. And yes it’s only a few, but my gracious, it only takes a few. "
“We need to start being very very intentional and thoughtful and data driven as it relates to the impact of these devices in the hands of young people,” said Bevin.
The wife of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Tonette Walker, who was part of the roundtable discussion responded, "I'm so sorry, but I'm going to disagree with you on that phone thing."
She said she thought cell phones were a problem, but a root of the school violence problem were students who have "adverse childhood experiences" such as violence at home.
Bevin then clarified that "I'm not suggesting that we take phones away."
He said he was in complete agreement with Walker about the adverse childhood experiences that students have.
But he said, "We've got to start asking a lot of hard questions."
Bevin said school shootings had become a "national epidemic." He also said school safety "did not rise as high as it should have as a priority among our legislators" during the 2018 General Assembly.
"Sadly, sometimes things that I'm not sure should have been priorities became priorities ahead of this. That result was that legislatively things didn't happen in this session," he said.
But Bevin said lawmakers have put together a school safety working group to come up with solutions and will be looking to other states for good ideas. Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio officials were also part of Tuesday's discussion.
The January shooting in Western Kentucky in which a student was charged with killing two Marshall County High School students and injuring several others was a major theme Tuesday.
Bevin mentioned that officials made an intentional effort not to “celebrate, talk about or name the young man who was responsible.”
U.S. District Attorney Russell Coleman who represents Western Kentucky, said it helped that relationships were developed between federal, state and local authorities before the Marshall County shooting. Coleman said Sheriff Kevin Byars “demonstrated heroic actions” in his role in apprehending the Marshall County shooter.
Byars said that because teachers and students, first responders and even parents were trained in what to do in the case of a school shooting, there was less loss of life.
Lewis, Kentucky's Interim Commissioner of Education, noted that some Kentucky schools are still not locking their doors.
He said that Kentucky schools are doing the correct things such as safety audits and hiring school resource officers but the next step is to "do it much more systematically."
The listening session gave state and local officials and others, the opportunity to share with Deputy Secretary of Education Mick Zais and representatives from the commission their views on how schools, school districts, and state government agencies can improve school safety, officials said.
The commission will continue to have meetings, field visits, and listening sessions.
Emmy Sippy, a member of the Kentucky Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, was one of several members of the public who spoke to the Commission.
She said students wanted to work with adults to not just make schools safer, but better all around.