More Kentucky schools have implemented security controls
Richmond, Ky. (Sept. 1, 2022) – Today, State School Security Marshal Ben Wilcox released the 2021-2022 School Risk Assessment Report. Results show improvement from all 173 Kentucky school districts regarding the safety and security of the commonwealth's students and staff.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a previous principal and educator, stated that administrators, teachers and students have embraced the commitment needed to maintain a safe learning environment for all who work and learn in the state's school buildings.
“The Beshear-Coleman administration is an education-first administration. We will always prioritize the safety of students and school staff, and the commonwealth has established a strong critical incident prevention plan that is working, as demonstrated by this report," Lt. Gov. Coleman said.
In large part due to Gov. Andy Beshear's $18.2 million budget allocation to help schools fund the necessary measures for safer entrances and exits, 99.53% of Kentucky schools are compliant with the School Safety and Resiliency Act (SSRA), according to compliance checks completed during the 2021-2022 school year.
“The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, reminds us that all safety mandates must be followed to maintain the integrity of a layered security approach," said Marshal Wilcox. “The School Safety and Resiliency Act provides a commonsense approach to building security, mental health advocacy, emergency planning, law enforcement engagement and staff training. While our compliance numbers are high, we must continue to work to fill the gap to 100% compliance. Our goal is always the safest learning environment for our children."
The SSRA was signed into law in March 2019, mandating that school districts across Kentucky be held accountable for the safety and security of the commonwealth's students and staff. The SSRA required that a recorded school-risk assessment be completed by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and every year following, per law.
The Office of the State School Security Marshal (OSSSM), housed within the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, assessed facilities in all of Kentucky's 173 school districts for compliance with the SSRA mandates. Unthwarted by adjusting to a new normal post-pandemic, school leaders have faced challenges but continued to keep their focus on one thing – Kentucky children.
“Our main recommendation for the new school year is that teachers and staff have a plan for critical incidents in schools, for districts to maintain emergency operations plans and that teachers continue to secure classrooms, external doors and front entrances," Marshal Wilcox stated during today's press conference. “We also need to continue working together to assign a school resource officer to every campus in the state and fulfill the goal of one school-based mental health professional for every 250 students."
The OSSSM includes 15 compliance officers who are assigned to school districts across the commonwealth and assess SSRA compliance together with school leadership, school resource officers and school safety coordinators. A safety assessment is made regarding measures such as electronic-locking front doors, surveillance, locked classroom doors during instructional time, classroom-window coverings, a threat-assessment team per school, emergency-operation plans for various scenarios, including fire, severe weather, earthquakes or building locks downs and evacuation routes.
OSSSM compliance officers are often local members of the community who are a trusted resource and are vested in creating a stronger, safer place for children to learn.
Since taking office at the end of 2019, the Beshear-Coleman administration has consistently demonstrated their commitment to the safety of Kentucky's children while on campus and in the classroom.
In April 2022, the Governor signed House Bill 63, which introduces new school resource officer (SRO) requirements for school districts. The new law requires that each campus have an SRO by Aug. 1, 2022, if possible. The law further provides that, “if sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available for this purpose for every campus, the local board of education shall fulfill the requirements of this subsection on a per-campus basis, as approved in writing by the state school security marshal, until a certified school resource officer is assigned to and working on-site, full-time on each campus in the district."
The Department of Criminal Justice Training provides SROs with 120 hours of specialized training, in addition to basic law enforcement response for working in schools. These include mental health awareness classes, skills for working with special needs students, cultural diversity and active shooter response.
All 173 Kentucky school districts were required to submit their safety plan to the OSSSM for review in August. At this time, OSSSM is able to report that more than 50% of Kentucky school campuses are equipped with an SRO as defined by HB 63. Since Gov. Beshear signed HB 63 into law, this represents a 21% increase in SROs who have been assigned to protect Kentucky schools, ensuring children and staff have a safe learning environment.
HB 63 also grants the ability for a school to create a police department. The ability to start a school police department provides a more jurisdictional definition to school police officers while allowing the school police department to apply for grants to assist in hiring SROs.
This approach gives school districts three choices for placing SROs on each campus:
- Collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to assign an officer to each campus;
- Hire and commission a Police Officer Professional Standards (POPS)-certified officer to become a Special Law Enforcement Officer (SLEO); or
- Start a school-based police agency with board approval.
In the fall of 2021, Lt. Governor Coleman partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education's Commissioner's Student Advisory Council, Kentucky's regional education cooperatives, the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the cabinet's Division of Family Resource Youth Service Centers to create the Student Mental Health Action Summits. The roundtable summits were created to hear from students directly and collect data that could be used to better address students' mental health.
Recently, the students joined the Lt. Governor to present the Team Kentucky Student Mental Health Initiative and their policy recommendations following last fall's Student Mental Health Action Summits at the Kentucky legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Education in Frankfort.
The recommendations are:
- Include and elevate student voice;
- Provide comprehensive suicide prevention;
- Allow excused mental health absences;
- Expand access to mental health services and treatment;
- Increase mental health awareness and education; and
- Increase and improve mental health professional development.
This year Gov. Beshear signed House Bill 44 allowing school district attendance policies to include provisions for excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons. The bill makes it so a student can make sure they are mentally fit for the classroom without facing repercussions for missed time away.
“We all know that the pandemic came with its own set of challenges and certainly created issues that none of us had to deal with before, but what it also did was it exacerbated old ones," Lt. Gov. Coleman said during her testimony to the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Aug. 16.