After the anguished parents of the two students who were killed in a shooting at Marshall County High School shared their grief with lawmakers on Thursday, the Senate education panel approved a bill to make Kentucky schools safer.
Senate Bill 1 and its companion House Bill 1 include several measures to increase school safety and are being touted as a top priority for the 2019 General Assembly.
Jasen and Secret Holt’s daughter Bailey Holt and Brian and Teresa Cope’s son Preston Cope, both 15, died in the Marshall County High shooting last year. Several other children were injured. A fellow student has been charged.
Brian Cope said you can’t put a price on a child’s life and he would give all his possessions to get his son back. More law enforcement officers in schools and metal detectors will make schools “hard targets,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to protect our children,” he said. “They are more important than anything.”
Jasen Holt said “the funding is a must.”
“I relive it everyday — Jan. 23,” he said, adding he didn’t want to see anybody else in his shoes.
Secret Holt said the past year has been “trying and difficult” and that she supported the improvements proposed in the legislation.
“Bailey was such a special child. I had no idea that that morning when I kissed her bye would be my last,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
A moment of silence was offered in honor of the two students at the panel meeting.
Senate Bill 1, called the School Safety and Resiliency Act and sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R- Campbellsville, now goes to the full Senate for a vote. Wise said the legislation is not perfect but it represents the best recommendations that lawmakers can make at this point.
The legislation does not include any gun-related measures. The costs of the proposals haven’t been calculated yet and funding won’t be determined until next year, Wise said.
Fayette County Education Association President Jessica Hiler, who was in the audience as the legislation was approved, said her group supported the bill, but was concerned about funding for it.
The bill would create a variety of safety measures. It would create a position of state school security marshal who would function similarly to the state’s fire marshal by enforcing school building security such as prevention and intervention and emergency preparedness planning.
It would require districts to appoint a school safety coordinator who will receive state training and provide school safety training to others. Also, the bill would require every public middle and high school administrator to share suicide prevention awareness information with all students, and would require at least one hour of high-quality suicide prevention training for whose with direct contact with students.
The bill sets a state goal of having one mental health professional for every 250 students and recommends that school counselors spend 60 percent of their time directly working with students.
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, who is a Marshall County native, was in tears as he introduced the parents of the slain children, saying nothing will ever “fix” what happened to them. But Carroll said he believes the bill does everything that lawmakers could do to make sure such a tragedy isn’t repeated.
Fayette County Public Schools Police Chief Martin Schafer said he attended Thursday’s meeting because he wanted to take information back to Lexington which just implemented a new school safety plan. The Fayette County plan includes safer school entrances, more police officers and mental health professionals and walk-through metal detectors.