When the 2018 Legislative Session adjourned, my colleagues and I began our work on the Senate School Safety Study Committee, which I chaired. We spent our time during the interim visiting different Georgia high schools across the state to help find solutions to some of the safety concerns they face. The committee met at five different high schools over the course of five months to hear presentations, commentary, and proposed ideas. We considered what we can do to ensure that our students, teachers, and other personnel go to school knowing that they are protected and that there is a plan in place in case of emergency. Of the many proposals discussed, we compiled a list of recommendations for the General Assembly to take into consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session.
The three areas the committee wanted to highlight included crisis prevention; physical security of buildings, facilities, and buses; and emergency response. When discussing crisis prevention, a major factor we considered was the mental health status of our students. We are currently relying on our school counselors to not only help guide students through their high school years and set them up for collegiate success, but also address their mental health. By providing additional funding for students to have trained mental health professionals, we can help our students get the attention and guidance they need in each specific area.
Another recommendation in terms of crisis prevention is updating the See Something Send Something phone app, which allows anonymous users to send in tips regarding suspicious activity or threats for law enforcement and school personnel to review. We also discussed the importance of training teachers, staff, and students to recognize suspicious activity as well as respond and report these situations.
It is important that schools have plans in place and practice drills to ensure that they are prepared in case of an emergency. One way to ensure that we have trained and reliable individuals at schools is to allow veterans the opportunity to serve as school resource officers. These brave men and women served our country with honor, and if they are looking for a job, we can allow them this opportunity by utilizing their training and abilities to protect our schools.
In addition to utilizing our resources and creating and implementing safety plans, the physical security of buildings, facilities, and buses needs to be addressed. First, we must evaluate current codes and policies to see which areas need improvement for each individual facility and bus system.
Most importantly, we need to start this process at home. As parents, it is our job to be there to love and support our children unconditionally. It is also our job to discipline and be aware of our children’s concerning behaviors. It truly takes a village to raise our kids, so parents and guardians must be parents — not friends — to their children and talk to them each day. By ensuring that we keep up with our children and what is going on in their lives, we may be able to prevent them from acting out in a way that may cause harm to themselves or others.
Though we may be able to prevent some incidents from occurring, we can’t foresee the future, so it is important to have plans in place and all the resources we need to ensure the preparation and safety of our schools.