By David Raleigh
Superintendent, LaRue County Schools
Senate Bill 1, also known as the Safety and Resiliency Act, has been passed by both chambers of legislature and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. SB 1 will increase student safety in Kentucky schools by increasing students’ access to behavioral health services, fostering a supportive learning environment, and applying proven strategies to address physical safety. I applaud the bipartisan collaboration and teamwork displayed to allow this bill come to fruition. We can never do enough to make our students and staff safe.
While the bill contains several components, three key areas of focus are: 1) providing a School Resource Officer in every school and defining the role and training for SROs, 2) providing mental health professionals in all schools to help create a trauma-responsive school climate, and 3) ensuring all schools are constructed in a manner to restrict access and maintain the physical safety of students and staff.
Many of the mandates included in SB 1 are either already being addressed or planned to be implemented in LaRue County Schools. We are currently immersed in the work of creating a district strategic plan. Within that plan, we identified two areas of work that coincide with SB 1; Social Emotional Learning and School Safety. Regardless of the outcome of SB 1, our goal is to align resources and structures to support these areas, as well as Transition Readiness and Early Childhood.
We are currently already compliant with some aspects of the bill. Specifically, we hired a School Resource Officer in October of 2018. With the assistance of the Sheriff’s office, we were able to hire Deputy Brandon Boone as our SRO. While Deputy Boone is primarily housed at LCHS, he also serves the middle and elementary schools. In regards to physical safety, all our schools are constructed with secure vestibules, limiting access to the building. There is also the expectation that exterior doors remain secured at all times and that all classroom doors are closed and locked during instruction. SB 1 will also require each school district to appoint a safe schools coordinator. Our Director of Pupil Personnel already serves in that capacity, but will be required to obtain additional training next year to ensure we are in compliance with all safety-related policies and procedures.
One area I am extremely happy to see addressed in this legislation is the requirement for additional mental health professionals in schools. This is an area our strategic planning committee also sees as a priority, which is why Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a focus area. Many students experience complex trauma and other mental health-related issues that negatively impact learning, which can ultimately have a negative effect on school safety. Within this section of the bill, it defines a trauma-informed approach as a strategy for dealing with students suffering from issues like depression and anxiety. While LaRue County Schools do not currently have a program such as this in place, we are exploring ways to provide personnel that can deliver trauma-informed services next year to our students in need.
There is one major drawback to Senate Bill 1. Currently, there is no funding mechanism in place at the state level to pay for the personnel and programs required in the bill. As with any unfunded mandate, it becomes the responsibility of the local school board to find ways to support them. There is a remote possibility that some components of SB 1 will be funded by legislators in 2020, which is the next budget year. While we want to be in compliance with legislation and we strive to keep our schools safe, it will be very difficult for districts like ours to fund an SRO for every building and provide an adequate amount of mental health professionals without assistance at the state level.