by Becky GINOS
SALT LAKE CITY—The question across the nation is how to stop school shootings and ensure students’ safety. Locally, a commission formed at the end of the 2018 legislative session was tasked with finding possible solutions through research and discussion. The group came together at the Capitol last week to give a preliminary report, including recommendations for going forward.
“These are serious issues regarding our children, schools and their safety,” said House Speaker Greg Hughes. “I’m afraid I was overoptimistic that we could do this during the session but it’s a difficult issue with lots of moving parts. This is not a simple approach. It’s not a silver bullet. How do we grapple with these issues?”
The Utah Safe Schools Commission, made up of uncompensated stakeholders, elected officials, educators, community members and students met together from March through June to discuss ways to improve school safety. They ranked their recommendations as Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3, with Tier 1 having actionable ideas and the strongest consensus among members.
“The impetus for this was the Parkland shooting,” said Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful. “It caused us to stop and think, ‘are we doing everything we can to keep our children safe?’ We invited experts to put their ideas in and then give them back to the state to consider.”
Ward said there were pros and cons to the commission. “A pro was we were able to form it quickly,” he said. “But the con is we don’t have authority to act.” The commission can make recommendations, but ultimately those suggestions would have to be put in place through legislation or by other means.
Tier 1 recommendations are as follows:
• Quick availability of well trained mental health teams for students at high risk
• Mandated mental health reporting
• Gun violence restraining orders
“Rep. Steve Handy had a bill for extreme risk protective orders at the end of the session that didn’t go through,” said Ward. “We have protective orders but there are gaps. We have to have due process set up but if someone is at high risk (of harming themselves or others) they could take away their weapons for a time until the risk is diminished.” Handy plans to reintroduce the bill in the next session.
Tier 2 recommendations included:
• Emergency alert app
• Trauma informed practices
• Safe gun storage
“Research shows many of the guns used came from the student’s home,” said Ward. “We’re looking at how to change the law and what the penalty is. We want to make it easier to provide storage to make it safe.”
Other Tier 2 recommendations were:
• Waiting periods to obtain firearms
• Universal background checks
Tier 3 suggestions were ideas discussed by the commission but did not reach majority support for action:
• Awareness lockdown training
• Controlled campus access
• HOPE squads
“Students need to be in on the conversation,” said teen representative Elizabeth Love from West High. “I hope we’ll continue to be included. I believe this is a great start but there’s more to do. I hope legislative changes come out of it.”
The group realizes some of the recommendations could be hot button issues. “It might be an uphill battle,” said Ward. “Some will support and some will oppose but we’re moving into a time where technology makes this information more available so we can still protect Second Amendment rights. As we discuss these ideas over the next few weeks if there is enough consensus I hope a special session can be called.”