Education

KY’s 1st school security marshal is on the job. Districts face punishment for violations.

Just as a fire marshal works to make sure that buildings are less likely to burn, Kentucky’s first state school security marshal’s job is to make sure that kids are protected at school.

The 12 compliance officers and two supervisors that the new marshal Ben Wilcox is in the process of hiring will start talking to educators about what’s required by a new state law beginning in January. By the 2020-21 school year, the compliance officers will be making unannounced visits to 1,435 Kentucky school buildings with a 66-point checklist.

Is the school controlling the main front entrance with electronically locking doors, a camera, and an intercom system? Do classroom doors have hardware that allows the doors to be locked from the outside but opened from the inside? Are classroom doors closed and locked during instructional time and classroom windows equipped with material to quickly cover the window during a building lockdown?

All of that and more will be noted. The new requirements and Wilcox’s appointment this past summer by Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner Alex Payne are mandated by the School Safety Resiliency Act, which the General Assembly approved in 2019. The wide-ranging bill was prompted by fatal school shootings in Western Kentucky and Florida in 2018.

The state law says that districts with a school not in compliance with certain building mandates by July 1, 2022, won’t be eligible for approval for new building construction or expansion in the 2022-2023 school year — unless they are making safety changes. The restrictions will stay in place in following years until there is compliance.

Some violations will require school officials to get more training.

Kentucky Law Enforcement Magazine reported in its September/October edition that Payne said that school officials shouldn’t fear compliance officers’ visits.

“We aren’t here to wield a hammer. We are here to work with people, but we will have to make a fair and impartial assessment,” Payne was quoted as saying.

Wilcox, a native of Madison County, was a Montgomery County school resource officer before 2004 when he went to work for the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training.

“I’m very excited to be involved in this job,” Wilcox said of the position which offers a $72,000 a year salary. He said schools will be able to share the best techniques they are using through his office.

Wilcox’s office will send reports about schools’ compliance with state law to legislators and other state officials and to the Kentucky Center for School Safety’s board of directors.

Center director Jon Akers and Wilcox are working hand-in-hand as Wilcox’s new role is developed.

“He is absolutely wonderful to work with,” said Akers. “He’s a dynamic law enforcement officer (who) has a major love for schools, and they could not have picked a better person.”

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