A bill lawmakers say is necessary to keep Mississippi children safe in school passed the first hurdle of the legislative process Thursday.
House Bill 1283 would create the “Mississippi School Safety Act of 2019,” something Gov. Phil Bryant urged the Legislature to pass in his State of the State address earlier this year.
“Our schools, which once were a haven of security, have become a place of potential violence,” Bryant said. “To help protect our students and those who teach them, I will ask you to pass a comprehensive plan to keep our school children safe.”
In addition to fire drills and emergency drills which already occur, schools would be required to conduct active shooter drills within the first two months of each semester.
This legislation is another attempt by the Legislature to enact some measure of school safety — last year, a bill that would have allowed teachers to carry guns in the classroom after specialized training died in the House. Also called the Mississippi School Safety Act, the bill would have allowed districts to designate teachers and other public school employees to get specialized concealed weapons training to carry firearms on K-12 campuses.
The 2019 bill would also establish three pilot programs in six districts to provide elementary schoolers with “skills to manage stress and anxiety in order for them to be better equipped to handle challenges in a healthy way and build resiliency.” The Mississippi Department of Mental Health would be responsible for developing “refresher training on mental health and suicide prevention for all school employees and personnel, including all cafeteria workers, custodians, teachers and administrators” to be conducted every two years.
Additionally, the Department of Mental Health would provide online training for school personnel to learn how to conduct behavioral health screenings on students.
Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, attempted to introduce an amendment that would make participating in active shooter training optional for students because he said the experience may be too frightening.
“It makes all the sense in the world to train the administrators, the teachers, all the people that are responsible for the safety of the kids,” Bomgar said. “If the administrators and teachers know what to do, I’d be in favor of them doing that drill when the students are not there.”
Those presenting the bill did not agree.
“We’re living in a world today where unfortunately these things have to be done and schools are responsible,” said House education chairman Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach.
In 1997, a 16-year-old student shot and killed two people and wounded others at Pearl High School, something Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon reminded House members of as he presented the bill.
“I’m going to trust the school districts and the Department of Education to implement a plan that at the same time (does) not traumatize that child but educates that child, teacher, administrator to not only protect themselves, but others,” Baker said.
The bill can now be taken up by the full House for a discussion and vote.