By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Many plans and proposals for ensuring student safety were discussed this week when the Federal Commission on School Safety hosted its last listening session at the State Capitol in Montgomery.
Not surprisingly, improving mental health offerings for students was the most common and prominent topic.
However, somewhat surprisingly, one topic that wasn’t discussed was arming educators to respond to potential school shootings. That has been a major policy discussion in Alabama since the last legislative session when lawmakers debated various proposals that could have resulted in arming teachers.
On May 30th of this year, Gov. Kay Ivey put the policy debate to rest by announcing the Alabama Sentry Program. The initiative allows schools without a school resource officer, commonly called SROs, to have a qualified administrator be trained and armed to help protect school grounds in case of an attack. It’s part of her Smart on Safety, or SOS, plan from the Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education council that provided the governor 10 recommendations to improve school safety.
The Governor’s office told Alabama Daily News that 375 schools in Alabama do not have an SRO. It could cost the state as much as $12 million to furnish the resources to fill that gap, with an estimated $33,000 per officer for the course of the school year. According to some sources, cost-sharing plans between state and local school systems and law enforcement have been discussed to help with those expenses.
But will that funding be necessary?
The Sentry program is meant to provide immediate resources to schools who were lacking SROs. However, according to Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor, no school administrators have applied to be trained in the Sentry program so far.
Resources are still available for any school wanting to participate. State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the relationship between law enforcement “is stronger than it’s ever been.”
The governor also announced during the talks on Tuesday that a group from the Colorado School Safety Resource Center will be training teachers in all seven regional districts in Alabama twice annually.
The Colorado trainers are there to teach school officials and teachers the best practices in how to respond in crisis situations like an active shooter on campus.
Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, who chaired the discussions in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ absence, said the Commission will issue a report of best practices and resources to improve school safety before the end of the year.
All of the commission’s panels have been lived streamed and you can watch this week’s here.
Caroline Beck is a reporter living in Montgomery. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN or email her at Caroline@aldailynews.com