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Kansas state education agency expected to house safe schools center

Kansas state education agency expected to house safe schools center
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Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson is asking that the Center for Safe and Prepared Schools, an entity disbanded in 2014, be revived and housed within the Kansas State Department of Education.

“We’ve worked closely with the Legislature,” Watson said of HB 2773, proposed legislation aimed at making Kansas schools safer. “We like what they’ve done in the governor’s office in that bill.”

Watson told members of the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday the Kansas Safe and Secure Schools Act gives his agency authority to hire staff members who will review and evaluate district security plans, provide technical assistance to districts, plan an annual safe schools conference and coordinate a safe schools advisory council. The annual operating costs are expected to be between $300,000 and $400,000, he said.

Under the act, the board would develop state standards for school safety in cooperation with the Kansas Adjutant General’s Office, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and any other state agencies “as deemed necessary by the state board.”

In addition to provisions of HB 2773, state board members will approve the distribution of $5 million that districts can access through an application process. Board members will also have to approve state standards for safety and security that districts must follow that will go into effect by January 2019.

Several board members said school districts across Kansas already have safety plans in place and have made significant security upgrades through bond issues. However, they said, taking the lead on developing statewide standards is a good way to get communities and schools working together.

“School safety is a complex issue,” said board vice-chairwoman Kathy Busch, R-Wichita. “We need to take a look at it on the state level comprehensively.”

Sally Cauble, R-Liberal, said inviting community members into a school to see an active shooter drill may help bring local entities together to make schools safer.

“It’s a sad thing that we send our kids to school and they have to do this,” Cauble said of the drills. “But we’ve got to bring our communities into our schools. I look at this as an opportunity to educate the public about what we are doing in public education. Sometimes in our community, we are the best-kept secret.”

Board members said districts need to continue addressing the social-emotional needs of students, and the work of the board’s statewide mental advisory council will continue.

On the thorny issue of arming teachers with guns, an idea championed by President Donald Trump since the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in Florida, board member Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, said he favors it as long as local school boards approve and teachers undergo proper training.

“If my district is representative of the state, there are still a lot of schools that anybody can walk into with nobody even seeing them until you find the office,” Willard said. “A shooter could walk into some of those schools with no obstruction. This could happen in Kansas and it could happen today.”

Willard said he wants to consult the Kansas Insurance Commissioner to clarify whether insurance companies won’t renew districts’ policies if teachers are armed.

Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said she doesn’t favor arming teachers, believing it would be unnecessarily costly. 

“I am completely opposed to it,” she said. “They have enough on their plate.”

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.

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