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How Georgia House legislators want to improve school safety
DCN Generic school bus

The Georgia House of Representatives is calling for the creation of a statewide threat management team to coordinate school safety and security resources through the executive branch, or governor’s office.

The management team would be designed to coordinate with local school districts, law enforcement agencies and mental health providers to work to prevent and respond to violence on public school campuses.

It is one of many recommendations made earlier this month by a House study committee on school security, and follows recommendations made previously by a federal panel and by a similar Senate committee in November.

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, president pro tempore, told The Times earlier this month that he expects school safety legislation and funding to be a “very high priority” in the 2019 legislative session.

In its report, the Senate committee said it explored “possible programs, solutions and safeguards to strengthen school safety in three key areas: the prevention of emergencies at or attacks on our schools from occurring in the first place; the physical security of school buildings, facilities, and buses themselves in the case of an actual emergency; and the responses of school authorities, state and local law enforcement and emergency services personnel, students, teachers and staff to active emergencies should they occur on campus.” The committee recommended increased state mental health counselors and allowing local schools systems to use special purpose local option sales tax revenues to fund the hiring of additional social workers or counselors (SPLOST funds are restricted to facilities improvements and other capital development projects).

The committee also called for a “data-sharing system by which Georgia’s schools, social services, and law enforcement agencies are able to coordinate together to create, share, and curate secure individual student profiles throughout a student’s educational career.”

The House recommendations concur with these proposals also while adding to them.

For example, House leaders suggest the state develop a threat assessment model outlined in the U.S. Secret Service’s School Safety Guide.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said the Secret Service’s protocols are something he supports.

The average “active-shooter” incident lasts just six seconds, but it can be over in a flash, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Improving safety infrastructure at public elementary, middle and high schools through methods such as secure entries and exits and additional surveillance, can be critical to mitigating the impact the six seconds can have.

And that’s why House leaders also want to explore a statewide communications network and promote the “See Something, Say Something” mobile application that allows students and educators to report threats.

One of the more controversial proposals from the House committee involves public knowledge of school lockdown and safety plans.

These plans are currently not subject to open records laws, but their design and approval, which may be done during a public meeting, can mean these plans are published or publicly available anyway.

The House committee recommends making discussion of such plans during board of education meetings, for example, off limits to public scrutiny.

If the House pursues this measure, it’s likely to receive pushback from First Amendment and free press advocates.

“We don’t ever want to hide anything,” Dunahoo said.

But he doesn’t want to give away too much, either.

“That’ll be a part of what will come up” during the 2019 legislative session, Dunahoo said.