State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Lawmakers consider wide range of recommendations for safer schools

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 13, 2013 7:56 PM

State senators are taking in a number of viewpoints as they consider ways to make the commonwealth’s schools safer – an effort to respond, in part, to recent the December school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

A task force created last month was perhaps the Legislature’s first response to the shooting. But legislation to tamp down gun violence and ramp up security has already been proposed, and lawmakers on Senate panels for education and emergency preparedness say they’re looking at the issue with a sense of urgency.

School superintendents, law enforcement officers, and emergency response professionals briefed the senators Wednesday on what could help prevent gun violence, fighting, and bullying in the classroom.

Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said she took note of the superintendents who said they’d like to have what are called school resource officers, sometimes described simply as armed guards.

“These are individuals who not just had training on use of a weapon and how to handle that, but they also understand the needs for mental health support in a school,” said Baker. “They’re doing bullying prevention, they’re looking at suicide prevention, so they’re a resource in the halls of the school on a given day.”

One Senate proposal calls for increasing funding for education grants and authorizing their use for things including school resource officers. Baker called such legislation a good starting point, but added her colleagues want to consider other recommendations for safer schools – like changing how the state reviews school safety procedures.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) said school districts are quick to remind lawmakers they don’t want to be on the receiving end of a one-size-fits-all approach to tighter security.

“Every school district has a different need,” said Folmer.


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