EdWatch 2013: School safety issues emerge
January 10, 2013 | By Susan Frey | 4 Comments
California legislators have responded to the Connecticut shooting of school children by proposing three new gun or ammunition control laws, but so far only one bill that specifically deals with school safety.
State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is reintroducing Senate Bill 49, hoping it will get treated better this year. It would put some teeth into existing law that requires all schools to have safety plans. Under the proposed legislation, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction would hold back funding for a district or county office of education that has not “substantially complied with the requirement that each of its schools develop a comprehensive safety plan.” Districts could also deny a charter school petition if the petition did not include an adequate safety plan. The bill died in Appropriations last year. This time around, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has agreed to coauthor it.
Although the vast majority of schools in California have safety plans in place, Lieu believes that some schools do not.
“We’re in the process right now of trying to determine how many schools in California don’t have plans,” said Bryan King, a Senate staff member in Lieu’s office.
Laura Preston, a lobbyist for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), says though safety plans are necessary, they have limited use if a school is under attack by a gunman. She would like to see Lieu’s bill amended to provide funds for training for administrators and teachers about what strategies to use if confronted with someone holding a gun. This week at San Diego State University, a training that included an actor playing a heavily armed killer roaming dormitory halls was held to better prepare staff and students.
Preston also plans to send out a questionnaire to the members of her organization about whether they support having armed personnel on campus. Several districts, including Los Angeles Unified, have beefed up police patrols since the shooting.
Preston added that she has received calls from the offices of several legislators since the Sandy Hook killings, so she wouldn’t be surprised if more bills regarding school safety will be forthcoming before the Jan. 25 deadline for introducing new bills.
Meanwhile, at least two California teachers are thinking about taking matters into their own hands. Shortly after the shooting, the Buckeye Firearms Association in Delaware, Ohio, offered an Armed Teacher Training Program. More than 600 teachers from 15 states responded, including two from California, according to Jim Irvine, a spokesman for the association. He said his group would begin offering the free training through the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, Ohio, for Ohio teachers before moving on to teachers in other states. He would not say where in California the teachers worked. “If nobody knows where they are, they’ll have a greater effect,” he said.
Existing state law is a bit gray when it comes to whether the right of a person to carry a concealed weapon trumps the state’s Gun-Free School Zones Act (Penal Code 626.9), said Lynn Lorber, a consultant with the Senate Education Committee. For example, a superintendent could give a staff member permission to have a gun as long as it was unloaded and locked in a car or container. The ammunition, however, could be stored next to it. Districts are allowed to be more restrictive regarding guns on their premises, but if a person who works for a school gets permission to carry a concealed weapon, the school district is not notified, Lorber added.
County sheriffs or city chiefs of police decide whether someone has the need to carry a concealed weapon after that person has met other criteria, such as a clean background check.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would take a dim view of any thoughts of arming teachers. After the shooting, Torlakson said in a press release: “In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, it’s disheartening that anyone would think the answer is to have more guns in and around schools.”