The Oklahoma Commission on School Safety released its legislative recommendations Tuesday, including a call for a new security tip line, mental health training for campus workers, and a new state institute to continue training, research and advocacy on the issue.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, chairman of the commission, predicted that the program would be well-received by legislators and would help set an “Oklahoma standard” for dealing with the challenges of school security.
The 22-member commission was formed shortly after the December killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Lamb suggested that the commission’s five recommendations could be accomplished for less than $1 million in new spending this year. The recommendations include:
•Form an Oklahoma School Security Institute under the leadership of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.
•Establish a mental health first aid training pilot program.
•Amend and change state law to consolidate and require safety drills.
•Require the reporting of firearms to local law enforcement.
•Establish a statewide school security tip line.
The most expensive element of the package would be the institute, which would cost about $500,000 its first year, Lamb said. The mental health training would cost about $245,000, and the tip line would be “the cost of a telephone line,” he said.
The new tip line would be unlike a more expensive state school security tip line that the state Department of Education discontinued months ago, he said. The new line would be operated by the school security institute, instead of a contract responder, he said.
The other two recommendations wouldn’t have any direct additional costs to the state, he said.
The panel called for every school in the state to conduct school intruder drills, along with already routine tornado and fire drills. The additional training would mean that every school will conduct a minimum of 10 drills per year with all students, school employees and visitors participating, according to the report.
Perhaps as notable as the recommendations in Tuesday’s report were what was not included — more funding for school security officers, bond funding to improve security systems at school buildings and funding for teams to find potentially dangerous mental health patients and return them to their treatment programs.
All of those issues were discussed seriously by the commission during its deliberations, and the mental health funding seemed to have strong support at the group’s meeting last week.
Lamb said the panel was never told by Gov. Mary Fallin or legislative leaders to pull back an idea because of spending.
But, he said, the commission was aware of the state’s limited funding for broad changes.
“There’s more that we wish we could do,” he said.
Reaction to report
Away from Tuesday’s meeting, Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, criticized the recommendations for not addressing the dangers of suicidal students.
“They got it half right, but they missed the other part,” Brose said.
While the recommendations look like a good start toward addressing the threat of an outside intruder in a school, they don’t do enough about recognizing and responding to the potential danger of suicidal students, he said.
According to federal studies, 20 percent of teens consider self-harm and 10 percent take steps toward accomplishing it, and other students can easily be injured or killed as a result, Brose said.
“We’re missing this huge need,” he said after reviewing the report.
But Fallin praised the commission for its work.
“The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary was an unwelcome reminder that we must actively work to address the mental health needs of our state. It also served to remind us of the need to ensure our schools are well-prepared for emergency situations,” Fallin said.
“The commission on school security has done a good job at addressing those issues, and we expect to be able to implement many of its proposals.”
At Tuesday’s rollout of the recommendations, Lamb emphasized that the institute will be the key element of the plan, because it will be the place where other ideas will continue to be advocated and funding sought to pay for them.
“You can always do more. ... That’s the point of the institute,” Lamb said.
Local members of the commission also emphasized the important role of the institute in future advocacy of new programs.
At an earlier meeting, Sapulpa schools Superintendent Kevin Burr said the Sandy Hook massacre made this a pivotal moment for the state to move ahead with a significant program, but he said Tuesday that he didn’t think the recommendations fell short of that goal.
Sandy Hook “is still at the front of my mind, and I’d like to think it’s at the front of everyone else’s mind, too,” Burr said. “The Oklahoma School Security Institute helps keep that emphasis.”
Gary Rudick, Tulsa Public Schools chief of police, said the program is realistic.
If the panel had called for putting a police officer in every school but had not funded the idea, the plan would have fallen apart, he said.
He said that he was pleased that the recommendations included no unfunded mandates for local school districts and that he already has some ideas for the institute to start working on.
“Training is always a critical issue,” Rudick said.
He said he also would like to see the institute serve as a meeting place for teachers and police officers to get to know each other better and understand one another’s roles.