By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Kentucky hasn’t had a school shooting since 1997 but lawmakers know parents are the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., has school safety on everyone’s mind.
A special House subcommittee on school safety met for the first time Thursday “for discussion purposes only,” just one day after President Barack Obama called for limits on the availability of assault weapons and requiring background checks on all gun sales.
The subcommittee heard recommendations from law enforcement consultants, a school resource officer, and a state education official.
All agreed more should be done to make schools safe. And nearly all of them agreed one thing not to do is to arm teachers and school officials.
Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, one of the co-chairs of the subcommittee, told Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, he lives in “Hatfield-McCoy country. We like carrying our guns.”
After the meeting, Hall told reporters: “I am advocating that the principles in each school, we should have the conversation, should they get and be trained to obtain a CDW (concealed deadly weapon) license?”
He said he couldn’t help but wonder if the principle at Sandy Hook had been armed might she have stopped the heavily armed man who killed her and murdered so many children.
But Akers, two law enforcement consultants and two educators on the subcommittee said that’s not a good idea.
“As a teacher, as a parent, as a policy maker,” said Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, who teaches at Taylor County, “arming teachers? Bad idea.”
“I don’t think any teacher, particularly those teachers in K through 5, really any teacher, would be comfortable ‘packing,’ ” said Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who taught high school until his retirement this past June. And no matter how well-trained teachers are, Graham said, school kids are inventive enough to find a way to get hold of the gun.
Most of the recommendations offered centered around greater facility security and placing uniformed policemen – school resource officers or SROs – in schools.
Mark Filburn, a retired Louisville Metro Police officer, and Alex Payne, a retired Kentucky State Police officer, told the committee that all schools should lock all doors and require visitors to enter through a central secure port.
They both support placement of uniformed policemen in each school, preferably on-duty officers. But schools, which can’t afford to do that, they said, might consider retired or off-duty to provide security, either through paid time or volunteer efforts.
But they said teachers shouldn’t be armed because they are not trained in law enforcement, gun safety and riot conditions.
The subcommittee also heard from Ravenna, Ky., police officer James Gross who works as a school resource center in Estill County.
Gross is paid by the school system while the city of Ravenna picks up his equipment, transportation and benefits cost. He started out at the high school and adjacent middle school, but now divides his time between the county’s five schools.
“That’s spreading you pretty thin, isn’t it?” Graham asked. Gross said he can be called quickly from one building to another if needed, but conceded it stretches his ability to provide security to all five schools.
Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, the other co-chairman of the subcommittee, said many rural districts don’t have the local tax base to produce sufficient revenues for the district to afford a school resource officer.
“That’s one of the things we want to address,” Henderson said. But he didn’t say how that might be accomplished, especially with a tight budget and calls from a legislative task force on pension reform to fully fund the state’s employee pension funds.
Akers, the head of the state center on school safety, offered several low-cost steps districts can take to make schools safer:
—Annual reviews of emergency response plans in consultation with local first responders and training/education of the building’s teachers and classified staff;
—Conduct two fire drills, one lockdown drill, one earthquake drill and one severe weather drill during the first 30 days of the school year and again in January;
—Bring first responders to those drills to evaluate effectiveness and offer suggestions for improvements;
—Control access to the building, ensuring visitors enter and leave by one, monitored entrance, provide a valid identification and reason for visit and requiring all visitors to wear “highly visible” visitor badges and to check out before leaving the building;
—Locking all exterior doors except the controlled entrance, lock interior doors when class is in session and posting both primary and secondary evacuation plans and conducting drills on both evacuation plans.
Henderson said the subcommittee will next meet on Jan. 25 at 1 p.m.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.