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Making schools safe


Todd Lamb March 20th, 2013

After the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., last December, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and House Speaker T.W. Shannon asked me to chair the Oklahoma Commission on School Security (OCSS). As a former U.S. Secret Service special agent, I have a background and training in security. As a state senator, I was the principal author of the Oklahoma School Security Act.

For many years, I’ve been concerned about this issue.

I was privileged to work with 22 other Oklahomans appointed to the OCSS to analyze our current school security climate. The panel consisted of professionals from diverse fields such as local education, homeland security, mental health, local law enforcement, parents and operational planning.

When tragedies strike, knee-jerk reactions are all too common. The goal of the OCSS was to conduct a thorough analysis and arrive at well-studied solutions.

We knew a swift, one-size-fits-all approach would not be useful. Urban, rural, small and large schools all have different concerns. The OCSS received presentations from numerous experts pertinent to school security and studied the many factors involved.

The OCSS focused to meet a March legislative deadline. Too often, studies such as this meet in perpetuity. They meet so long, nothing ever gets accomplished. To that end, the OCSS completed its work over several weeks and unanimously submitted five recommendations to be considered this legislative session.

Among them is the formation of an Oklahoma School Security Institute. It would create a center of best practices and resources for schools, as well as allow the school security conversation to continue and remain a priority.

During the OCSS study, one finding revealed that 40 percent of youth who need mental health services don’t receive it. The establishment of a mental health first-aid training pilot program would better equip local school personnel in crisis intervention and preparedness.

Currently, school safety drills are scattered in various statutes and, therefore, burdensome for school personnel to execute. A change in state law to consolidate our safety drills and require school intruder drills will increase awareness. There is also a component that gives more discretion to local school administrators to practice drills they choose.

Not every school currently reports a firearm when it is discovered. A requirement to do so would allow educators to focus on teaching, and law enforcement to conduct investigations.

The establishment of a security tip line will provide for a confidential emergency reporting mechanism. In most school violence situations, someone almost always knows something pertinent prior to the incident. A tip line encourages that information to be shared. There is no end-all solution to stop evil. But the recommendations by the OCSS are grounded in extensive research and study.

As lieutenant governor, but more importantly as a father, I thank the OCSS members for their hard work. Their recommendations will aid in achieving the goal of greater school security, and I thank legislative leadership for their vocal commitment to pass legislation to keep our state’s students safe and secure.

Lamb, a Republican, is lieutenant governor of Oklahoma.

 
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