Commission formed to study school safety issues

By Becky GINOS

UTAH STATE CAPITOL—After what happened in Florida, school safety has become a top priority across the nation. Here at home, lawmakers and other stakeholders are coming together to find possible solutions to the violence by forming the Utah School Safety (USS) Commission. The new group came together last week at the Capitol to discuss its purpose and mission. “It’s time to act and act right now,” said House Speaker Greg Hughes. “We need to take an inventory of bills and try to address this issue.” Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, assembled the commission. “The tragedy in Florida stirred a deep desire to respond,” he said. “We had to decide how to respond in the most useful way to really help our school children. This commission is made up of willing people who stepped forward to improve the safety of our children and ultimately the community.” It is nonpartisan and commission members are not paid, he said. “It will take all of us together to solve this complex, vital problem in society.” “There is nothing more important than answering the call to keep our students safe,” said commission member Heidi Matthews president, Utah Education Association. “There has been a movement of students who have called to us to keep them safe.” Dallas Earnshaw, a psychiatrist at Wasatch Mental Health and commission member said he wants to help the public understand mental illness. “I hope as we study this issue it will clear up some myths and lack of understanding,” he said. “We need to identify at-risk individuals early on so tragic things don’t happen.” Earnshaw said it concerns him that people think that having a mental illness leads to violence. “It stigmatizes those with mental illness,” he said. “There are small groups that are violent but we must be very careful not to put everything into a nice package and miss the boat. To associate mental illness with gun violence is a big mistake.” Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton was running HB483 regarding extreme risk protective orders. “The situation right now on protective orders is through due process a victim can petition the court against an ex-husband or boyfriend who is threatening and gone off the rails that law enforcement could remove something harmful like a gun that he could use to hurt himself or others,” said Handy. “This bill is for an extreme protective order against any threatening person such as a neighbor or work colleague that have reached the tipping point and are in a mental crisis. Using the same tools of probable cause law enforcement could make a telephonic request to a judge to grant that they can go get firearms. The weapons would be removed for 20 days until the defendant can prove later he is healthy and well enough to re-obtain the firearms.” Handy said the shootings in Florida prompted him to craft the bill. “Also my daughter and son asked if I was going to do something in the legislature or just sit on my thumbs,” he said. “I kind of felt motivated. My wife and I never worried about sending our six kids to school but I worry now about my 15 grandchildren. It’s very personal.” However, Handy’s bill was sent back to the House Rules Committee on Monday recommending it be studied during the summer. He is hopeful the commission will consider it and suggests the Legislature could possibly address it in a special session. The director of Architectural Services at Davis School District Bryan Turner also sits on the commission. “They wanted a broad base of individuals like an architect who designs schools,” he said of the appointment. “In Davis County we have a mix of old and new schools. The trend is transparency and openness in classrooms. People worry about that because they ask ‘where does somebody hide if a shooter comes in?’ But that is rare and the design should be the best for education and the opportunity for teachers to teach one-on-one.” Turner said during the Mueller Park Junior High incident the boy brought a gun in and it went off in the classroom. “What happens is the school goes into lockdown and it takes several hours for the police to clear the classrooms. If education were still going on it would just stop. With openness the police can see what’s going on right away.” Solutions are complicated, especially in high schools, he said. “Do we go to security guards at the entrance? That’s easy at elementary schools but at high schools it’s impossible. They’re coming and going all day. The easiest thing is to secure the vestibule with the exterior doors unlocked but a visitor wouldn’t be able to get into the next set of doors until they were buzzed in.” Kennedy said the commission will look at where the state is, where it’s been and what other states have done. “The reality is we need to focus on something so we’re focusing on school safety first,” he said. “Violence will always be with us. If we feel this is a useful process our work will never be over.”


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