With deadly shootings on their minds, lawmakers unveil bill to try to make schools safer

Recalling the murder of two students at Marshall County last year and other shootings in the nation’s schools, state Sen. Max Wise unveiled a comprehensive 30-page bill Wednesday intended to make Kentucky schools safer.

Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the measure, Senate Bill 1, addresses “a pressing issue” that lawmakers can and must address.

Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act, is a product of a 16-member, bipartisan panel of senators and representatives.

Wise called it “a first step.” The legislation does not include any measures dealing with guns. He said there was “no strong appetite” for arming teachers.

The bill is broken down into four areas: personnel, systems and structures, a culture of student connection and accountability.

It would create a new position of state school security marshal, who would report to the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training.

The marshal would function similarly to the state’s fire marshal and present an annual report to the Kentucky Center for School Safety board about findings and recommendations, Wise said.

Sanctions would be established for schools that fail to comply with submitting safety risk assessments or for correcting safety deficiencies.

The bill seeks more school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools as soon as funding is available. Wise said a fiscal note is being prepared on how much the bill will cost.

Sen. Danny Carroll, a Paducah Republican whose district includes Marshall County and a member of the school safety panel, said he wished the legislation could do more financially but that was not possible because of the state’s public pension crisis.

“There is no question that additional funding will be needed as we move forward,” he said in a floor speech.

Lawmakers said the bill sets out some initial structures but does not put mandates on school districts that can’t afford them.

The measure also requires districts to appoint a “school safety coordinator” who will receive state training and provide school safety training. Certain school personnel are to receive standardized training by Sept. 15, and every following year, on responding to active shooter situations.

Also, the bill revises suicide training law. It would require every public middle and high school administrator to disseminate suicide prevention awareness information by video or live presentation to all students in grades six through 12.

There would be at least one hour of high-quality suicide prevention training for all staff employed by the local board of education whose duties require direct contact with students.

The bill sets a state goal, beginning July 1, 2021, of having mental health professionals in schools, one per every 1,500 students as funds are available.

Kentucky is one of several states that has been re-evaluating school safety policies in the wake of last year’s incidents of school violence.

The Fayette County Public Schools Board this past summer approved a tax increase that is paying for Superintendent Manny Caulk’s $13.5 million plan to improve safety in Lexington public schools. The multifaceted plan already underway includes walk-through metal detectors, improvements to school vestibules and the hiring of more district police officers, mental health professionals and nurses.

While Senate Bill 1 does not deal with guns at schools, state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, has filed House Bill 30 that would allow people who are licensed to carry concealed firearms to take them to schools.