Jun. 29, 2018

By Rep. Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster/Dauphin)
June 29, 2018

School districts across Pennsylvania are developing and implementing strategies and security plans to help increase school safety and keep Pennsylvania students safe. As the House Education Committee chairman, I held a lengthy hearing on this topic which included four panels and 14 witnesses, earlier this year in preparation for the 2018-19 state budget.

With 500 school districts and about 6,000 school buildings in Pennsylvania, it is difficult to find any two schools that are exactly alike. Due to this diversity, the recurring theme throughout the hearing was that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution that would work for every school. Because different school districts have different safety needs and protocols, the final budget contains $60 million for school safety and security grants overseen by the newly formed Safety and Security Committee under the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).

The new grant program allows schools to apply for state funding from a menu of over 22 broad safety-related initiatives. Some of these safety and security initiatives include: Training and compensation for school resource officers and school police officers, staff training to respond to student behavior that may require intervention, security planning and purchase of security-related technology such as metal detectors and imaging systems to identify visitors, students and staff.

In addition to the grant program, several additional bipartisan safety measures were enacted. For example, House Bill 2327, authored by Rep. Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster), which was adopted into the final school code, would allow public school entities to go into private, executive session for school safety discussions. This would prevent information about a school’s security measures from falling into the wrong hands and compromising student safety.

As security plans work better when an adversary does not know what you are planning, this legislation will grant public school entities the ability to freely debate and develop security plans that address the needs and weaknesses of their schools without disclosing their plans to would-be attackers.

Another measure, House Bill 2215, authored by Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich (D-Lackawanna) and also incorporated in the final school code, requires schools to conduct at least one school security drill each year, and allows schools to substitute two additional school security drills (in addition to the one required drill per school year) for two fire drills.

In addition, Act 44 of 2018, which is based on a successful Colorado initiative, creates the Safe2Say Program under the Office of Attorney General. Provisions of this new law include ensuring anonymous reporting concerning unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent or criminal activities, or threat of such activities, in a school entity. In addition, protocols and procedures will be established to promptly notify the appropriate law enforcement agency via 911 centers and the Pennsylvania State Police when the Program receives an anonymous report.

The bipartisan effort put forth on these pieces of legislation speaks to the desire on both sides of the aisle to put the safety of our students first.

Combined with the safety funding that we were able to provide schools with in the budget, we are really giving school boards and administrators some substantial tools to make our schools safer while ensuring maximum flexibility and local control.