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School safety is focus of legislators

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Carney, Wise have traveled state seeking input on school safety

By Zac Oakes

 

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School safety has been a major topic of discussion lately, as local schools have implemented several new ideas and practices in order to further enhance the safety and security of students while they are at school. 

The topic has also been approached at the state level over the summer, as State Rep. Bam Carney and Sen. Max Wise, both Republicans from Campbellsville, led a School Safety Working Group that traveled the state this summer to gather input from school officials, students, and citizens across the commonwealth. 

The group was chaired by Carney and Wise, but included other legislators, as well as some ex-officio members including school personnel, law enforcement, a student, and others. 

“They came from a very diverse background,” Wise said. “We had a superintendent, a teacher, a principal, a student, a retired school psychologist, and the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training… We really liked the diversity we had with the group as a whole with political diversity and geographical diversity.” 

The group also consulted the Kentucky Center for School Safety and a retired military general with a background in school safety training. 

The group consisted of House members Carney, Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville; John Blanton R-Salyersville; Will Coursey, D-Symsonia; and George Brown Jr., D-Lexington.

Senate members consisted of Wise, Danny Carroll, R-Paducah; Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington; Ray S. Jones, D-Pikeville; and Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg. 

The group has traveled around the state to hold meetings and looked at the various factors that play a role in school safety, from physical security measures such as law enforcement officers in schools to the psychological factors such as access to mental health counseling. 

At a June meeting discussing building security, law enforcement in schools, and arming teachers, Carney stated that he was opposed to the idea of arming teachers. 

“I’m a teacher,” Carney said in a Kentucky Legislative Research Commission press release. “And I know there’s varying opinions in this room, but I don’t want teachers packing. I’m not going to send my child to a school where a teacher is packing, because that’s not what they’re trained for.” 

Wise said the group really wanted to focus in on the mental health aspect. 

“We wanted to listen to school counselors, licensed personnel, and listening to students,” he said. 

For Wise, this summer has been about listening to a variety of voices and gathering input on a topic that is difficult to handle, as school districts in Kentucky are very diverse. 

“The thing is, what works in Jefferson County may not work in Pike County, and vice versa,” Wise said.

Overall, Wise said the purpose of the working group, as opposed to a task force, is to listen, gather information, and report on what was presented. 

“We can make recommendations,” Wise said. “We can talk about what Kentucky is doing well and what needs to be improved on.” 

Wise said they would not be developing a bill as a group, but they can offer recommendations on what can be done to better ensure school safety. 

Wise said he has been honored to serve on the group.

“Given my position as the education chairman and my background with the FBI, I think Senate President Robert Stivers felt like this is something I would have a great background and expertise on,” he said. “And being the education chairs, I think it was a no-brainer for Representative Carney and myself to be co-chairs.” 

The Kentucky Legislature allocated funding to Kentucky schools to beef up school security, but many security actions have taken place at the local level. Both Campbellsville and Taylor County school districts added a school resource officer (Taylor County already had three SROs) and have spent the summer updating security plans, entrance and exit systems, holding forums and roundtables centered on school safety, and various other security measures. 

The group will meet at least once a month through Dec. 30 and will issue a report by the end of December 2018 that identifies relevant issues for improving school safety and potential strategies for solving those issues.