Guns

Shootings prompt effort to help schools pay for silent alarms, other safety measures

Public schools around the country would receive funding for safety measures, such as metal detectors and bulletproof windows, designed to protect students and teachers during school shootings in a new bill before Congress.

The school violence prevention bill, sponsored by Reps. Roger Williams, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida, would provide grants for public schools to undergo safety assessments to determine what structural improvements should be made to help reduce security risks during school shootings.

The bill would fund these safety measures through the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

The measure would allocate $2 billion over 10 years to help the Justice Department pay for the entire cost of Independent Risk Security Assessments and half the cost of constructing recommended security measures like metal detectors, steel doors and bulletproof windows, according to Williams.

The other half of improvements would be paid by the school or school district being assessed, unless the COPS director issues a financial hardship waiver. In that case, the Justice Department can pay the full cost.

Deutch represents Parkland, Florida, the site of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, where 17 people were killed in 2018. This bill would benefit schools such as Stoneman Douglas because it prioritizes safety assessments and funding for schools that have already experienced a violent event or have been seriously and credibly threatened with violence.

The bill also includes a provision that requires all schools who undergo the independent security risk assessment to install a silent panic alarm, which the bill can fund.

Silent panic alarms could be used during active shooter situations to call local police departments and emergency services to alert them of an emergency without the shooter knowing that help has been sought.

This panic alarm provision has been introduced independently as a bill in state legislatures across the country as Alyssa’s Law, named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old who was killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. A version has been passed in New Jersey and another version was introduced by Florida state lawmakers in August.

“Over a year after the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in my district, our country continues to search for ways to keep our children safe in schools. Part of addressing threats to our schools and students is understanding the gaps in our security plans,” Deutch said in a statement.

The Williams-Deutch bill has support from members of both parties. It has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, a committee member, said he expects approval.

“I suppose it all depends on what’s going on with other Judiciary matters,” Raskin said. “But I would say there’s a pretty good chance of that happening.”

Williams spent his August recess visiting Texas schools and advocating for his bill.

Dr. John Craft, the superintendent of Killeen Independent School District in Killeen, Texas, supports the bill.

“Anything pertaining to students and staff being safe in public institutions is really important,” he said. “For students to learn, they have to feel safe and I argue all that is true for staff members as well.”

Craft and Joe Perrin, the superintendent of Grandview Independent School District in Grandview, Texas, both said they would apply for Justice Department funding for security improvements if the bill were to pass.

“We will definitely look to apply for the grant funding,” Craft said. “As far as specifics go, we’ll be relying on this outside assessment to see where those funds would be best applied.”

Craft says that Killeen ISD already has Strategic Facility Program Funds that allow for safety improvements and strategic construction needs that could be dedicated to pay for half of any structural projects recommended by the safety assessments mandated in the bill.

Williams stressed that this is not a gun control bill, but explicitly a school safety bill to protect students, teachers and other school workers.

“I want the teachers to be able to go to school safe and sound,” Williams said. “We get confused that it’s a gun debate and everything gets tangled up in the gun debate. But we gotta pull the security part out of this debate and get it fixed now.”

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Alexandra Marquez is based in Washington, D.C. and is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an intern working for the McClatchy D.C. Bureau and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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