When state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1, the large school safety package, earlier this year, they built in timelines for schools to meet the myriad requirements of the bill.
Since the bill became law, John Akers, head of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, has been busy working with school districts who are trying to comply with it.
"My phone stays busy all the time with follow-up questions" from school officials, Akers said last week. The agency also held a training on the bill for school officials in June.
"We did it early in the summer, so they would have time to digest (the bill) and give themselves a plan of attack," Akers said.
Senate Bill 1 is a response to the 2018 school shooting at Marshall County High School and has a number of provisions for school districts to achieve. For example, the bill asks districts to appoint a district safety coordinator who will oversee annual school risk assessments. Schools are also required to provide students in middle and high school with annual suicide prevention and awareness training. School staff members are also required to receive annual active shooter response training.
The bill also requires a hardening of schools, with locks on classroom doors that can only be opened from the inside and a locked front entrance with an intercom and camera system. Class doors are required to be closed and locked during class time.
"The bill's sponsors visited Daviess County Public Schools to see the procedures we already have in place," said Lora Wimsatt, public information officer for the school district.
Damon Fleming, director of student services for DCPS, said the district was already doing some of the things required by the bill, such as providing annual training to staff.
"We are very fortunate in that things mandates in the bill we have implemented or were in the process of implementing," Fleming said. For example, active shooter training was something "we have done for five years," he said.
"I think a lot of the districts didn't have that level of training, so Senate Bill 1 will bring some uniformity to that," Fleming said.
Jared Revlett, public information officer for Owensboro Public Schools, said the district hasn't had to make any changes to its facilities, but it has created the position of school safety coordinator and established a school safety team to oversee security for the district.
The district will is also providing active shooter training, presented by the Daviess County Sheriff's Department, to all new staff, while existing staff will get their annual training through a video, Revlett said. The district also started using the "Crisis Go" app, which alerts personnel to situations occurring near city schools.
City schools officials have looked into adding a second school resource officer and have had some discussions with the Owensboro Police Department.
The bill sets a goal of having one counselor for every 250 students in a district by July 1, 2021, or "as funds and qualified personnel become available." Counselors, or a mental health provider like a school psychologist or social worker, would establish school "trauma-informed teams," who will be trained to identify students who have experienced trauma and work with those students so they can perform at a higher level in school.
Fleming said DCPS has established "trauma-informed teams." When asked about adding school counselors, Revlett and Fleming said they were waiting to see if funding for extra staff would come from Frankfort.
"We do have a full school psychologist and counseling department," Revlett said. Regarding additional counselors, "that's one of those (provisions) that falls under, 'Is there going to be any state funding for that?'
"I think any time people from the state legislature want to make school safety a priority, it's a good thing," Revlett said. "From that aspect, it's great. There are certain things in the bill we are going to need funding for."
Fleming said, "The way Senate Bill 1 was written, it recommends a (school resource officer) in every school," and one counselor for every 250 students. He said the district, like others, is "waiting to see what comes in the budget."
The state House of Representatives had House Bill 1, which was largely identical to Senate Bill 1 although the Senate's version was the one that moved forward to become law.
"Both houses in the General Assembly feel school safety was the No. 1 priority for the session," Fleming said. "... Hopefully, they'll feel the same way when it comes to funding and helping school districts out."
Akers said school districts that don't meet deadlines in the bill won't be penalized. Instead, the Center for School Safety will work with districts to find ways to meet the bill's requirements. Schools won't be inspected to see if they comply with the law until beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
"We are giving every school a heads-up on what we'll be looking for a year from now," Akers said. Regarding counselors, he said, "that's the issue I'm hearing from people, 'We think it's a great idea and a great framework, but will the General Assembly be able to fund them?'"
The 2020 legislative session is a budget session, and legislators will likely also be dealing with deficits in the state's pension system.
"Everyone is going to be asking for money, and school safety is going to be front-burner," Akers said. "I feel confident the General Assembly will be responsive to us."
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse