OREGON’S PORTLAND — State legislatures throughout the nation are advancing legislation aimed at enhancing school safety in the wake of an elementary school shooting in Tennessee earlier this week that claimed the lives of three 9-year-olds and three adults.
The measures, which mandate the installation of technology in schools such as panic buttons, video monitoring, and emergency communications systems, have been submitted in both blue and red states.
The majority enjoy bipartisan support, as lawmakers regard them as a means to improve school security without provoking a political impasse over the contentious subject of gun control.
But according to some experts, teacher safety training is more cost-effective and efficient than new technologies, which might not have the funding for upgrades or continuing maintenance.
It hasn’t stopped states like Tennessee, Missouri, and Oregon from implementing the systems.
“I was asked by a colleague if our schools will have to become fortresses to keep our kids safe. And I told them yes, if that’s what it takes. I don’t care if we have to park a tank outside a school,” William Lamberth, the Republican House Majority Leader from Tennessee, remarked.
While many Democratic state legislators have advocated for stricter gun regulations to prevent school shootings, others are now endorsing the emergency measures for schools that have been mostly promoted by Republicans.
A plan that would force schools to send electronic notifications to parents as quickly as possible after a safety threat arises passed the state House in Oregon, where Democrats are in control of the legislature, by a unanimous vote this week.
Another initiative that would mandate the installation of panic alarm systems that, in the event of an activation, would inform law police or emergency services in all public school classrooms is being sponsored by two Democratic lawmakers.
If the panic alert bill is approved, Oregon would join Republican-led Florida, Democratic-led New Jersey, and Republican-led New York as states having such legislation. Similar legislation is being considered in several other states.
“If there’s anything we know, it’s that during an emergency, time equals life,” Emerson Levy, a Democratic state representative, is one of the main sponsors of the Oregon measure.
Some school districts are implementing new security measures, like panic devices, without waiting for legislation to do so.
The CrisisAlert system is presently being used by the Clark County School District, one of the ten largest districts in the country, in Las Vegas. The badges can be worn around the neck and pressed to request assistance or initiate a lockdown of the entire school.
The second-largest district in the state, Olathe Public Schools in suburban Kansas City, also embraced CrisisAlert.
James McMullen, who is in charge of the district’s Safety Services Department and also serves as the associate superintendent for middle school instruction, claims that the system has not yet used it to respond to an active shooter incident.
Yet, he said that school staff members utilize the badge daily for everything from student fights to medical problems.
“Earlier today we used it when we had a student who was unconscious. The staff member, instead of leaving the kid to go call for help, was able to just hit their button three times and had a lot of assistance real quickly,” he said on Thursday.
“We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from our staff regarding the fact that it makes them feel safer, empowered,” McMullen said.
After the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the popularity of panic alarm devices increased.
To promote panic buttons, Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was one of the 17 people slain, formed the organization Makes Our Schools Safe. As guns rang out, she texted her daughter to let her know that aid was on the way.
“It’s really so important to be proactive, and to really accept the fact that unfortunately this can happen anywhere at any time, as we’ve seen over and over again,” said Lori Kitaygorodsky, the group’s spokesperson. “There’s really nothing to lose by being prepared.”
Some Republican-led states have increased money for school security to assist schools in purchasing modern equipment like panic buttons.
According to Will Fullerton, senior vice president for government affairs at Centegix, the Atlanta-based business that makes the device, installing CrisisAlert, for instance, costs at least $8,000 per campus under a three- to a five-year contract.
Between 2021 and 2022, the number of schools utilizing CrisisAlert roughly doubled, according to the business. According to marketing vice president Stacy Meyer in an email, the badge system sent over 50,000 alerts during the Fall 2022 semester, a 100% increase from the same period the prior year.
State officials committed $105 million for school safety and mental health efforts following the shooting that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May.
For school police, about half of it was allocated for bulletproof vests, while $17 million went to districts for panic-alert equipment.
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On top of the $20 million previously allowed for school safety in the current year, the Missouri House on Thursday adopted a budget for 2024 that includes $50 million for grants for school safety.
With the money, schools will be able to purchase technologies like door locks, intercom systems, and security cameras.
While one-time donations can help schools buy new equipment, they don’t necessarily cover maintenance over longer periods.
In some of the schools he has worked with, according to Ken Trump, CEO of Cleveland, Ohio-based National School Safety and Security Services, he has discovered equipment like security cameras gathering dust in boxes.
“There’s no budget to repair, replace and maintain them after they put them in … Things are pushed into a closet and not used again,” he said.
“The basic fundamental tools are not being properly used — staff not being properly trained, doors that are propped open,” he said, adding that the focus should be on “situational awareness, pattern recognition … and then making cognitive decisions under stress.”
Patricia Gault is a seasoned journalist with years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for uncovering the truth and bringing important stories to light. Patricia has a sharp eye for detail and a talent for making complex issues accessible to a broad audience. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a commitment to accuracy and impartiality, earning a reputation as a reliable and trusted source of news.