Op-ed: School Safety Takes Priority in the State Capitol

There is bipartisan agreement in the state Capitol that school safety should be one of our highest priorities in the weeks and months ahead. I am extremely thankful that my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives are taking this issue seriously and working to safeguard our schools – including heeding my call to provide additional safety resources for school districts.

A new grant program created by lawmakers in June will help schools throughout the state improve school safety and make their classrooms a safer environment for learning.

The new School Safety and Security Grant Program will provide $52.5 million to school districts, intermediate units, area vocational-technical schools, private residential rehab institutions and charter schools for a wide variety of safety projects.

Grants will be available to hire school security officers, purchase security equipment, complete security assessments, hire and train school counselors and psychologists, and implement programs to help reduce risks to students. The program provides the flexibility for schools to choose the programs and services that best meet their unique security needs.

School entities must submit applications for the program no later than October 12, 2018.  Guidelines and applications for the new program are available online at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s website (www.pccd.pa.gov) under the School Safety and Security heading.

Although this grant program is expected to have a positive impact on student safety, making these new resources available to schools is only one piece of the puzzle.

Lawmakers have already approved a number of bills aimed at protecting our schools. Measures signed into law earlier this year will allow school boards to discuss safety plans in private executive sessions to prevent would-be assailants from circumventing security procedures; create an anonymous school threat reporting system; mandate regular school safety assessments; and require schools to provide employees with school safety and security training.

In addition, there are other bills circulating in the legislature that could boost school safety efforts, such as Senate Bill 1136, which would expand options for rural schools to contract for police coverage, and Senate Bill 1213, which would provide more access to mental health professionals in schools.

Throughout the summer, the Senate Majority Policy Committee has been holding a series of hearings to gather input from school administrators, school board members, staff and law enforcement to examine existing plans and explore new ideas to better protect students.

This important feedback will allow lawmakers to continue our work on school safety and give students the safe and nurturing learning environment that they deserve.

More information on school safety measures under consideration in the General Assembly is available online at https://www.pasenategop.com/school-safety/.

Senator Alloway represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The district includes Adams County, and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.