Fighting back tears, parents of two students killed in a school shooting in Marshall County asked state lawmakers to pass a bill to bolster school safety.
“We have to do this,” Brian Cope, father of shooting victim Preston Cope, said in a Senate education committee meeting Thursday.
One hour later, committee members unanimously passed Senate Bill 1 — the “School Safety and Resiliency Act” — in its first step to make Kentucky schools and students safer. It is expected for a full Senate vote Friday, bill sponsor Max Wise said.
After the Marshall County shooting left two dead and others injured in Jan. 2018, lawmakers spent months touring the state, soliciting feedback to build a school security bill. School safety is now the legislature’s top priority, with SB 1 and its sister House Bill 1 claiming top bill numbers.
Designed to simultaneously harden and soften schools, SB 1 calls for more training for school resource officers and a greater focus on mental health support for students.
SB 1 would also create a statewide school safety marshal to enforce regulations and develop an assessment tool to evaluate schools’ security and emergency procedures against best practices.
Two African-American senators — Sen. Reginald Thomas and Sen. Gerald Neal — asked for SRO training to include a focus on racial sensitivity. Neal said he feared “unintended consequences” of having additional police in schools, especially those with large populations of African-American students.
Wise said he has “full confidence” in those in charge of developing the training to look at all sensitivity issues.
Initially, the bill asked for schools to provide one mental health counselor for every 1,500 students — a ratio considered too high by some professionals. An amendment passed Thursday significantly dropped that to one counselor for every 250 students, adding that counselors needed to spend at least 60 percent of their time working with students.
SB 1 also asks for more suicide prevention training, including presentations for students starting in the sixth grade.
Most of the bill’s effectiveness is contingent on funding, likely to come in the 2020 session. In a KET show taped earlier this month, Rep. John “Bam” Carney said that districts will have to “be creative” to find ways to fund security initiatives.
It is not clear how much the measures would cost to implement should the bill pass. Eric Kennedy, the government relations director for the Kentucky School Boards Association, told the committee it will likely cost a “substantial” amount.
Kentucky joins several other states in considering legislation to make schools safer in the year following the Parkland shooting and subsequent security and gun control discussion. In 2018, 43 states considered some form of legislation targeting school safety, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Those bills ranged from emergency response plans to suicide prevention efforts to SROs, NCSL wrote. Of the popular angles, efforts to arm school staff seemed to have the least support — only two of 24 states enacted legislation on that front.
In attempts to secure bipartisan support, Kentucky lawmakers did not include gun control reform in SB 1 or HB 1. While taping the KET special on school safety, Carney said arming teachers had minimal support in the state and was left out of the bill.