Utah school leaders, lawmakers discuss ways to improve school safety

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) — Utah’s Legislature Education Interim Committee heard from various parties regarding school safety in Utah.

Representatives from the State Board of Education, the Utah School Superintendents Association and the Utah School Safety Commission presented their findings and proposals to lawmakers.

Leaders discussed youth violence, current safety measures, ways to secure schools, and legislative options.

“The school safety (and) the safety of our children is our primary, number one concern,” said Utah Lobbyist, Terry Shoemaker.

Before addressing lawmakers on potential solutions, Shoemaker presented current safety measures across the state:

  • Ongoing conversations with schools and the district
  • School Safety Committees established and meeting to discuss security needs
  • District Safety Committees established to give input into the allocation of resources and funds
  • Public meetings on school safety
  • Boards allocating resources to better safeguard students
  • Local law enforcement involved in these conversations
  • Schools participating in multiple drills with input and feedback from local law enforcement
  • Focusing on the training of teachers and staff to identify students at-risk for violent behaviors, including training on positive behavior supports and trauma-informed care
  • Some districts adding additional counselors, social workers, and school psychologists
  • School districts are implementing current technologies and practices that better secure the school environment
  • School districts are altering access to their facilities and classrooms, both physically and by policy
  • 80% of all secondary schools currently have a school resource officer

Shoemaker also presented statistics from the CDC, highlighting youth violence:

  • In 2014, 4,300 young people ages 10 to 24 were victims of homicide — an average of 12 each day
  • Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 years old
  • Among homicide victims 10 to 24 years old in 2014, 86% (3,703) were male and 14% (597) were female
  • Among homicide victims ages 10 to 24 years old in 2014, 86% were killed with a firearm
  • Youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $18.2 billion in combined medical and work loss costs

Millard School District Superintendent and State Superintendent for 2017-2018, David Styler, featured five main ways Utah schools can improve school safety.

The list, entitled USSA Five-Point Emphases, includes:

  • Prevention measures
    • Prevention measures include expanding preschool, school counselors, social workers,a nd mental health services
  • Working closely with local law enforcement personnel
    • Additional school resource officers and an expanded alw enforcement presence helps deter serous incidents and streamline communication channels
  • Using new technologies
    • The ever-expanding list of technologies help foster communication, identify exposure areas, and deter or isolate threats
  • Altering facilities to control access
    • School districts are making needed changes to school facilities as quickly as their funds allow
  • Emergency protocols and employee training
    • We desire greater flexibility in which types of safety drills we practice, and how often

“This is obviously not an all-inclusive list, but just some of the things that are going on in our district,” said Styler.

While some representatives say they are concerned about single-entrances, others, including Representative Ray Ward, say mental health should be a main concern.

“If a student started to get in trouble, that there was quick and reliable access to a mental health team, where that would include a trained mental health person who could accurately assess if the risk was imminent, high, middle or low,” said Ward.

Styler and Shoemaker encourage lawmakers to resist a one-size fits all plan.

Other participants, including Tami Pyfer, the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor, said schools should still be a welcoming place.

“Our students are there over six hours a day, and our teachers are there 8 to 9 to 10 hours a day. We want schools to be welcoming places to be,” said Pyfer.

Some legislative options presented include:

  1. School boards need help with ongoing funds for additional personnel help in prevention: Ongoing funds needed for counselors, social workers, mental health specialists, school resources officers, etc.
  2. Resist a one-size, fits all plan for all schools and school districts: Local boards are working with local law enforcement to provide school-specific plans, resources, training
  3. One-time monies could be used to speed up existing capital or technology safety upgrades: Single entrance improvements, window, door, or surveillance technologies, etc.
  4. Alter laws on emergency evacuation drills and protocols: reduce the fire drills in elementary from five to three by altering UCA 15A-5-202.5
  5. Provide additional funds for professional development of school employees: Training in research-supported efforts like positive behavior support systems, trauma-informed practices, and specialized school shooting training such as hide/fight/fight/reunification strategies

Senator Chair, Ann Millner encourages school leaders to continue to brainstorm new strategies for school safety. Lawmakers will discuss this issue at a board meeting this October.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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