State lawmakers on Monday heard recommendations about how to how to make Kentucky schools safer in the wake of the deadly shooting at Marshall County High School earlier this year and similar tragedies across the country.
A group of school safety experts shied away from controversial policies like arming teachers or new gun regulations, instead advising that schools improve security, hire more school resource officers and find new ways to detect and prevent possible shootings.
Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, said schools need to train students and teachers about how to escape or hide during an active shooter situation.
“We need to teach the kids if you’re in the commons area and something bad should happen, where would you go?” Akers said. “If you can’t run out of the building can you hide in the bathroom? Can you get into a classroom where they lock down much like they did at Marshall?”
Two 15-year-olds died during the January shooting at Marshall County High School, which took place in a common area before school started.
Akers said there have been 294 threats of school violence in the state since the Marshall County shooting on Jan 23.
Mark Filburn, former Commissioner for the Department of Criminal Justice Training, recommended that schools lock all doors during the day and use video-intercom systems to assess visitors before they enter the building.
He also advised that schools hire more school resource officers and set up 501c3 organizations that can accept donations for security improvements.
“I can tell you every parent and every teacher and most corporate people in your communities will contribute to that,” Filburn said.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers proposed a variety of bills dealing with school safety — ranging from arming teachers to hiring more mental health counselors — but none of the measures passed.
Rep. Bam Carney, a Republican from Campbellsville and chair of the House Education Committee, said he supports hiring more school resource officers, but voiced concern about arming teachers.
“I don’t want teachers packing,” said Carney, a teacher at Taylor County Middle School. “I’m not going to send my child to a school where a teacher is packing because that’s not what they’re trained for. But we can find trained law enforcement people and put them in a building.”
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville, said that beyond safety improvements, the legislature should pass a law requiring gun owners to keep their firearms locked up.
“We could look at filling some of these gaps with some just common-sense gun safety like a gun or a safe so the kid can’t go into the garage and get dad’s gun,” Marzian said.
Akers commended lawmakers for not passing any new school safety laws, saying it would have been a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“Taking a measured approach, sitting back after the dust clears and hearing what other people are doing gives you an opportunity to look through things in a more comprehensive way,” Akers said.