School resource officers, locked doors help prevent school shootings, Ky. experts say

by Kevin Wheatley –

Kentucky House Democrats condemn Governor Matt Bevin's comments suggesting children were abused because of the teacher rally in Frankfort.

Kentucky House Democrats condemn Governor Matt Bevin’s comments suggesting children were abused because of the teacher rally in Frankfort.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) — As school districts across the country explore ways to make their classrooms safer amid threats of violence, Kentucky experts told lawmakers Monday that school resource officers and better building security are two key places to start.

Their testimony before the Interim Joint Education Committee will be considered by a working group tasked with examining school safety in Kentucky following the Jan. 23 shooting at Marshall County High School that left two students dead and 19 injured.

Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, says some schools have looked at installing metal detectors, having staff check students’ backpacks or arming school personnel, among other possibilities, in response to recent shootings. Marshall County Schools, for instance, has banned middle- and high-school students from carrying backpacks and installed metal detectors as part of its safety strategy.

“School safety is a comprehensive issue,” Akers said. “It’s going to take a lot more than just these components right here to make schools safer.”

He and others who testified said that school officials should ensure entryways are secure at every building and invest in resource officers who are trained to handle threats of gun violence. Since the Marshall County shooting, schools have reported receiving nearly 300 threats, Akers said.

While they advocated for an increased law enforcement presence in schools, those who testified Monday made clear that they don’t think arming teachers is appropriate.

About a third of Kentucky’s 120 counties have no law enforcement presence in schools, according to Chris Barrier, president of the Kentucky Association of School Resource Officers.

Mark Filburn, former commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training, said police are better trained to handle traumatic situations and bring different mindsets to their profession than teachers.

“There’s a whole lot to facing someone when someone’s shooting a gun at you that you can’t learn in a week,” said Filburn, who noted a Western Kentucky University poll that found 70 percent of respondents support the use of school resource officers and 63 percent would back tax increases to pay for them.

Some on the education panel agreed. Rep. Bam Carney, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he hoped the General Assembly and various local groups like the Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties can find a way to help school districts hire armed resource officers.

“I don’t want teachers packing,” said Carney, R-Campbellsville. “I’m not going to send my child to a school where a teacher is packing because that’s not what they’re trained for.”

Legislation filed in the aftermath of the Marshall County shooting that would have allowed districts to designate school marshals failed to gain traction in this year’s legislative session.

Locking school doors is also a fundamental tool in preventing violence in schools, the experts said.

Securing a school’s entryway and installing a video intercom system can cost up to $10,000, Filburn said.

“Nothing is 100 percent,” Filburn said. “All we’re trying to do is make our kids, our children, our most valuable asset in life, to give them every chance they can to survive, and if we’ve got the doors wide open in our schools and an intruder can walk in, we haven’t done that.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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