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Senate unanimously passes school safety bill

The Washington Senate voted unanimously Friday to pass a bill with the goal to increase safety at schools across the state.

The bill, which had already passed through the House with a 83-14 vote, takes a number of steps to work toward that goal, including replacing the current regional school safety and security programs with a network of school safety centers, made up of regional centers in each educational service district and one state center.

“Creating a system of comprehensive school safety supports will maximize the use of state and local resources so that every student can attend a school with a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment,” part of the bill’s intent section reads.

According to the staff analysis of the bill, there’s currently a school safety center within the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which “provides resources to districts and schools to help in the development of emergency operations and safety plans,” and its duties aren’t codified. Current law, according to the analysis, allows educational service districts — a map of those is online here — to implement regional school safety and security programs.

Under the bill passed by the Senate today, the state school safety center would support regional centers as a clearinghouse for information and be responsible for creating model policies and procedures, among other duties. Regional centers would support local districts by, for example, coordinating training and school-based threat assessments.

To advise the network of centers, school districts, schools, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the bill establishes a School Safety and Student Well-Being Advisory Committee within OSPI. Required committee members include representatives of teachers associations, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, law enforcement, and behavioral health.

The bill tasks the Washington State School Directors’ Association and OSPI with developing a model policy for establishing a school-based threat assessment program. The bill lays out what those plans must, at a minimum, include.

Among the minimum standards, the programs have to identify behavior of a student that could be threatening to themselves, students, staff, visitors, or school property. They also have to analyze information about that behavior, determine the level of concern, and potentially “develop and implement intervention strategies” to manage that student’s behavior.

The statewide model policy is due January 1, 2020; each school district is required to adopt a policy and procedure to establish its own program — consistent with the model — by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. OSPI is tasked with collecting data on and monitoring the plans.

Also included in the bill are additional requirements for schools to include in safe school plans and safety drills, and a direction to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to conduct a study of how school districts use the First Responder Building Mapping Information System, which provides floor plans and hazards for all government-funded buildings.

Sen. Lisa Wellman, who was the prime sponsor on a companion bill, brought forward a floor amendment creating a grant program to fund training for School Resource Officers (SRO), defining what an SRO is, and requiring districts that employ SROs to confirm the officers have specific training. The amendment mirrors bills prefiled by both Wellman and O’Ban.

“Great minds think alike,” O’Ban said. His bill, he said, was borne out of a proviso included in the budget last year.

The title of Friday’s bill, “Concerning nonfirearm measures to increase school safety and student well-being,” makes it explicit that none of the policies it includes are gun-related. However, Sen. Phil Fortunato, who introduced a bill earlier this year to allow districts and private schools to authorize employees to carry guns on school grounds, brought forward a floor amendment to the same effect.

A majority of members voted Fortunato’s amendment down, and he ultimately voted for the bill without his amendment included.

“I appreciate the effort, and I think this is a good structure to put in place,” Fortunato said.

Since the Senate amended the bill, the House needs to concur in the amendments before it can head to the governor’s desk. The bill is also subject to appropriations, so funding for its policies must be included in the budget for it to go into effect — proposed operating budgets that passed off the floor in both houses include funding for the bill.

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