On Wednesday afternoon lawmakers again discussed a school safety bill that, according to the Senate Education Committee’s chair, is getting some inconvenient pushback in the final stretch of this legislative session.
“I thought there was going to be more of a coming together where people would be OK with it,” said Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who is chair of the committee.
Options-based emergency drills
For most of the week, committee members worked on S.138, which contains numerous provisions on emergency “options-based” response strategies and building access policies.
According to the bill’s text includes the policy “shall require option-based response drills, including fire drills, to be conducted following the guidance issued by the Vermont School Safety Center jointly with the Vermont School Crisis Planning Team.”
It continues, “In issuing the guidance, the Vermont School Safety Center and the Vermont School Crisis Planning Team shall include trauma-informed best practices for implementing options-based response drills.”
Recent changes to the bill include that there should be proper warnings to families ahead of emergency drills, and that they should be age appropriate.
According to a recent report in The Hill, active shooter drills across the nation “may be traumatizing millions of students.”
According to a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools document, options-based training means to “run, hide, or fight. You can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm.”
Schools may be fined up to $500 for not doing the drills, according to the bill’s text.
No armed guards
The bill does not include proposals for armed guards, often referred to as school resource officers, to work on school campuses. Having an armed officer on the scene can make a difference according to a University of Albany study from 2018, which shows that police response time to mass shootings on average takes longer than the course of the attack. A typical violent attack with a firearm lasts about 5 to 6 minutes.
Lawmaker says gun violence ‘out of control’
The committee’s vice chair, Sen. Martine Gulick, D-Chittenden Central, who is also on the Burlington school board, shared that she thinks the subject of gun violence is traumatizing children.
“I had to go to my local elementary school and speak to my fourth-grade class about guns and safety, and it was hard to see the fear in children,” she told the committee on Monday.
Gulick suggested that gun violence is out of control at the state and federal levels.
She said, “Obviously our state and our country needs to grapple with and fix the gun issue that we have which is completely out of control.”
She added that she would support the bill, and she’s pleased with the section dealing with bias training requirements. The bill reads, “The guidance shall include best practices on bias and how to reduce incidents of bias, developed in consultation with the Office of Racial Equity.”
Bias training doesn’t always get great results. A BBC report indicates that such training is proving divisive for companies who seek to implement the social justice-themed ideas onto employees.
Too much to ask of the bureaucracy?
Sen. Terry Williams, R-Rutland, said on Monday that he is generally supportive of S.138, but one concern he cited is whether government sectors will be able to carry out the new rules.
“I think we should do something, even if it’s wrong right now, and build on that, because I really question whether AOE [The Agency of Education] can do everything that they’ve got [in this bill] in the time that we’ve given them,” Williams said.
Still in the legislative process
Wednesday’s session ended with Amanda Garcés, the director of policy for the Human Rights Commission, commenting about an amendment that would task her commission with creating a report for lawmakers regarding bullying, harassment, hazing, and similar problems in schools.
She was asked to speak to the committee about how far along her group was in these studies, and she confirmed they do not yet have the reports that the lawmakers are looking for.
“We’re still in the process of understanding what we’re supposed to do,” she said.
Campion said the report on hazing, harassing, and bullying could be rescheduled to be due by Dec. 1.
The committee continues to work on the bill this week.