Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey launched a statewide initiative to address school safety on Tuesday afternoon in the wake of a school shooting in Florida last month that left 17 dead.
In the days since those students and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many ideas have been discussed to ensure students are safe nationwide.
Some range from gun control measures to arming classroom teachers with weapons of their own, and though Ivey’s initial “framework” for school safety didn’t endorse any of those efforts, it didn’t rule any out, either.
Instead, Ivey said any and all proposals could be submitted to the Securing Alabama Facilities of Education (SAFE) Council, which she created Tuesday through an executive order. The group will comprise state education, law enforcement and mental health officials and will ultimately make recommendations to the governor’s office for statewide implementation.
“We will build on the foundation already in place and allow all available state resources to be focused on efforts to keep our children safe,” Ivey said. “Ensuring safety in our schools is a bipartisan issue, and we must do all we can to prevent violence and be sure we are ready to respond in the event such violence does occur.”
Ivey divided her initial framework for school safety into two primary areas: ensuring schools are secured and funding is available for that purpose and using teachers and administrators to identify students “at risk of harming themselves or others before they act violently.”
Another component would task the Alabama Department of Education to work with school systems on “Emergency Operations Plans” for individual schools — plans that will need be updated once the SAFE Council recommendations are finalized and applied.
The council is scheduled to turn its recommendations over to her by the end of April, and Ivey said tangible changes would be following close behind. In the meantime, she said expects teachers and administrators to “start taking action as soon as they can.”
Because each school system and individual schools have different needs, Ivey said she wants to give local school officials the flexibility to use state resources however it fits their needs. She also gave a vocal endorsement for a bill introduced by Sen. Trip Pittman (R, Fairhope) that would allow the Education Advancement and Technology Fund to be used for school security.
That fund, a rolling reserve, is worth roughly $41 million this year.
“That money could be for resource officers, secure doors, metal detectors or whatever is necessary,” Ivey added. “We want the locals to feel like they have access to what they need, but it has to be for security purposes.”
As for specifics, Ivey didn’t have many for reporters Tuesday, though she did briefly address questions about a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Mary Moore that would ban certain types of semi-automatic rifles used in recent mass shootings.
“Our research shows us that forbidding a special type gun from being sold won’t stop the problem because they’ll use dynamite or anything,” she said. “Those type of specific proposals will be brought to the SAFE council, and they’ll make a recommendation on them.”
Another widely discussed proposal has been arming classroom teachers. A former educator herself, Ivey acknowledged it was “a different day” when she was in the classroom and said teachers during her career “didn’t have such threats” like those seen today.
However, she again declined to say whether she’d support a bill arming teachers were one to pass the Legislature. Instead, she said specific proposals would have to be submitted to and reviewed by the SAFE Council before she took a position on them.
Ivey said the most important roles for teachers at the moment is to identify and get help to students who could be struggling with mental health or other behavioral issues.
“We have to make sure we’re paying attention to those students at risk and getting them the attention immediately,” Ivey said. “There are signs some tend to show and those school officials, parents and administrators need to point those out and get resources to these young people.”
Ivey said it is also important for law enforcement to make sure any information they receive about potential threats in public schools is taken seriously and said students, teachers and administrators would have to play a larger role in helping to identify them.
“It’s important that everybody takes the responsibility that when you see something say something,” Ivey said. “Don’t just say it once, either. Tell several people.”