Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’S) Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council (SAC) met with Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass during their Aug. 23 virtual meeting to discuss school safety policy suggestions.
The SAC began their school safety work at their May 31 in-person meeting as a response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. As a result of those conversations, the students decided to work together to write a collective policy recommendation for Kentucky legislators and other education stakeholders.
Three categories were created to focus on topics of interest: proactive events before a school shooting; actions in the event of an active shooter; and recovery from the effects of a school shooting. Over the summer, students worked in groups centered on the three categories to look in depth into data and existing Kentucky laws.
Christina Weeter, director of the Division of Student Success in KDE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, provided background during the August SAC meeting on current school safety measures outlined in Kentucky’s School Safety and Resiliency Act.
During the 2018 interim session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the Legislative School Safety Working Group met monthly and heard testimonies from the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) as well as from superintendents, directors of pupil personnel, school resource officers, students, teachers, counselors and other stakeholder groups. The result was a comprehensive bill that addresses school safety from the perspective of strengthening campuses through school facility upgrades and increased security personnel, to softening classrooms by promoting the psychological well-being of students.
Students broke out into groups to discuss their work over the summer and start forming an outline for their policy recommendations to the General Assembly. The SAC was particularly interested in enhancing existing policies outlined in the School Safety and Resiliency Act, such as the S.T.O.P. tip line.
The S.T.O.P. tip line is a free, anonymous tip submission system that can be used by schools to provide students, staff, parents and community members with a way to report concerning behavior, threats of harm, threats toward the school and other types of information online or via telephone. The tip line is currently administered by the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (KOHS).
Spandana Pavuluri, a 12th-grade student at duPont Manual High School (Jefferson County), called for KOHS to be more transparent about the tip line process once they receive a submission. Pavuluri feels students may hesitate to submit a tip because they don’t want to bother authorities with something that may not be urgent or may amount to nothing of concern.
“I think it’s really important to be more transparent about what happens with the tip you give. A lot of time it tends to feel like it goes into the void and you don’t know if anyone is looking at it or noticing it and addressing it,” she said.
The mental health of students and staff also was a priority for students. Many of their recommendations for services to be provided to communities if an incident were to occur centered on trauma-informed practices. Students were concerned about the possibility of retraumatizing students and staff with current state requirements for active shooter trainings.
“Maybe they feel like they’ve healed and they have to go through the shooting drills again, it may bring everything back and it will be steps backward,” said Raima Dutt, an 11th-grade student at duPont Manual High School.
The students will have a full draft for internal review in mid-September, and plan to have the recommendations completed in October.
Update on Flood-Impacted Districts in Eastern Kentucky
Glass told the students that 25 districts were impacted by the July flooding in eastern Kentucky. Breathitt County, Letcher County, Knott County and Perry County schools were impacted the most, with significant damages to school operations or buildings.
“It’s been more disruptive to school operations than the tornadoes that impacted western Kentucky in December. … The school buildings were largely left undamaged. In eastern Kentucky in the floods, you’ve got school buildings that were extensively flooded,” said Glass.
The range of damage extend from structural to sanitary sewers to internal systems. Glass is hopeful that a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly will provide much-needed relief and flexibility for instructional hours.
Hunter Combs, an 11th-grade student at Knott County Central High School, spoke about the personal impact to his friends and family.
“At lot of people use school as a safe place. People go to school to get away from things; a lot of people find safety in school,” said Combs. “I love school because I get to see my friends. Knowing a lot of my friends don’t have houses is really scary.”
In a guest column on Kentucky Teacher, Combs wrote about the Knott County community coming together to help each other. Even in the wake of catastrophic flooding, Combs finds hope in the way his school became a shelter and a hub for supplies.
Knott County tentatively plans to open Sept. 19. Combs said the main concern right now is road conditions. Even if school was open tomorrow, people wouldn’t be able to get there, he said.
“We have heard from all of the school leaders in eastern Kentucky, just desperate work to get open and establish some kind of normalcy and connection for people,” Glass said. “Especially after these past couple of years of really disrupted school, there’s an extra urgency to get back open.”
In other business, the council:
- Welcomed 17 new members to the SAC;
- Learned about communications opportunities to share their experiences as high school students in Kentucky; and
- Learned about Educators Rising, Kentucky’s student organization for aspiring educators, and the leadership opportunities available to students. John Paise, KDE’s program consultant for the program, said Educators Rising student leaders will play a larger role in designing and leading the spring state conference.