Kentucky’s legislative School Safety Working Group (SSWG), made up of bipartisan legislators, stakeholders and other experts in school safety, has met since June 2018 to listen to and discuss proposals to improve school safety across the Commonwealth. While many states across the nation are feeling pressure to provide a quick, reactive solution, the SSWG, co-chaired by Senator Max Wise and Representative Bam Carney, approached these meetings through an intentional process — hearing what is currently happening in our school districts and what is supported by real research and evidence – before making any proposal recommendations.

Last month, Kentucky Youth Advocates, representing the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, was invited by the SSWG to bring partners to the table to share their thoughts regarding some of those best practices around school safety.

School safety experts have consistently presented that the primary prevention strategy to violence in schools is to provide welcoming climates for students and connect students with a trusted adult to whom they can turn. Nurturing environments – including at school – support the healthy development of children by reinforcing positive behaviors, building resiliency and limiting exposure to toxic stress. Supportive environments foster relationships where students feel comfortable reporting risks and concerns to school staff who can in turn assess and respond to the situation. School Resource Officers (SROs) and other law enforcement personnel are being added to many of Kentucky districts’ school safety plans.

While some research suggests stronger SRO presence increases feelings of safety and positive relationships, it also shows that strong processes must be established to ensure their role is clear, does not extend to handling common school discipline matters, and promotes a strong relationship with all students in the school. Judge Steven Teske, Chief Judge of Juvenile Court of Clayton County Georgia, spoke to the SSWG about the School-Justice Partnership he helped to create in his district, which focused on the importance of this type of collaboration. A few important takeaways from Judge Teske’s presentation include:

  • It’s not only important to identify the right personnel to be placed in the schools, but also to identify the more specialized trainings school-based law enforcement should have before they begin integrating into hallways and classrooms.
  • Being smart about SROs in schools has impacted everything in his district from improving graduation rates to reducing crimes.
  • SROs engaging students in positive ways, not just in times of discipline, leads to increased student success and safer schools and communities.

Additionally, Donovan Fornwalt, Director of the Council on Developmental Disabilities, shared with the SSWG that those trainings for any law enforcement in schools should be specific to understanding child development and children with disabilities, as well as understanding the effects of trauma on children and youth. Pastor Edward Palmer with the Subcommittee for Equity and Justice for All Youth also suggested awareness of cultural differences and biases be incorporated in trainings for law enforcement in schools so that children are being responded to in an equitable manner.

All Kentucky children deserve a safe environment in which to learn, and by creating supportive school environments, all kids have the best possible chance for a bright future. As the 2019 legislative session kicked off this week, Senator Max Wise filed Senate Bill 1, which takes comprehensive steps to address the safety of students across Kentucky.

Learn more on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children policy priority, Increase Student Safety By Creating Supportive School Environments and Addressing the Behavioral Health Needs of Students, here. Stay up-to-date on SB 1 and other Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.