By Emma Epperly
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
School resource officers, threat assessments, and statewide school safety best practices are all topics of proposed legislation this year, however, none of the five bills are scheduled for further hearings that could lead to a vote.
The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee heard public testimony on five school safety bills Wednesday.
“I worked with the House very carefully on this and with others, (to) not do an omnibus bill with everything packed in but to do a number of different bills addressing, you know, different elements,” said committee chairwoman, Lisa Wellman D- Mercer Island.
Senate Bill 5052 would add training requirements for school resource officers to be drafted by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and paid for by a grant program.
The resource officers are also the subject of SB 5141, which emphasizes that the state does not require police officers in schools but that if the district chooses to have one, the district must adhere to the statewide training requirements. Proposed training topics would include the rights of children in schools, child and adolescent development, recognition and response to youth mental health issues, and the education rights of students with disabilities, among other things.
“I didn’t want my daughter to become another statistic in the school to prison pipeline,” said Cory Walster, expressing concern over the law enforcement aspects of the bill.
Walster said he is a single parent to daughter diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and cannot always control her reactions. He is also a volunteer for the non-profit Civil Survival, which advocates and organizes people directly impacted by the criminal justice system.
Threat assessment processes would be required to be developed by all school districts in the state under proposed SB 5216. The process to identify worrisome behaviors in students would include four components — it must be based on behaviors, be incorporated into the school district’s system of student supports, districts must engage with families whenever possible, and it should address the needs of students with special needs.
SB 5317 would establish a Washington school safety center and a network of school safety coordinators stationed around the state.
“This is putting in place the structure that can really support the program,” said Wellman, noting that SB 5317 has companion legislation in the House of Representatives — HB 1216.
The bill would establish the School Safety and Student Well-Being Advisory Committee, located in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Greg Lynch, Superintendent of the Bremerton Educational District, spoke in support of the bill, mentioning that 65 percent of Washington school districts, are small school districts that “struggle mightily” in these areas. Lynch hopes SB 5317 would build a network foundation that a variety of resources could be added to as they become available.
“This bill systems wide focuses around building a foundation of supports through a state-wide network, from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction) through regional school safety centers and then to school districts and then to our schools,” said Lynch. “It remains a critical shortfall in our state.”
The fifth bill discussed would change first responder requirements to notify schools in a lockdown or evacuation situation. SB 5514 would require first responders to determine whether other schools in the area, including private schools, should be notified as well.