Representatives, superintendent support bill that would require shooter drills at schools

Published 10:40 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

Both of Lincoln County’s lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted this week to approve a bill designed to make schools safer from mass shootings.

But Brookhaven’s Rep. Becky Currie had reservations about the bill that would require safety inspections and active shooter drills at public schools.

It would also create a threat-reporting mechanism monitored by three dedicated analysts at the state Department of Public Safety. House Bill 1283 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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“The threat is real and it’s one we have to prepare for,” said Rep. Mark Baker, the Brandon Republican who sponsored the bill.

“I have many concerns with that bill. The amount of work that will be required is more than I want to put on our school officials now and on our students,” Currie said. “I struggled with that bill terribly, but if I had voted ‘no’ and something happened to our students I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Currie said teachers should focus on education not preparing for potential disasters, but she recognized preparation for the unthinkable is necessary today.

“I pray that we are never faced with this but, unfortunately, it is a reality of our world now,” she said.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers said some of the components of the bill have already been implemented in his district. 

“Some of our employees have received CRASE training, but expanding it to all employees will be beneficial, as will … annual inspections and threat assessments with plans for improvement and monitored compliance,” he said. CRASE stands for civilian response to active shooter events. 

Myers said he was not concerned with active shooter drills for elementary students.

“Early childhood educators are among the most nurturing people on earth,” he said.  “They are very capable of conducting these drills without traumatizing elementary students.”

Myers said his worry is that the funding needed to implement the measures outlined in the bill may not be there.

“The primary concern is the repetitious use in the bill of the phrase ‘subject to appropriations.’  Many of the facets of this legislation requires additional funds,” he said. “Our district is highly interested in the MCOPS (Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services) grants and the implementation of resource officers into our schools.”

Ray Carlock, superintendent of Brookhaven schools, said he supports any measures, including active shooter drills, that improve safety, but wanted to see a final version of the legislation before commenting further on it.

“We recognize that student learning is affected by an unsafe environment,” he said.

School safety has been a pressing issue for local parents and educators. Parents at West Lincoln raised money last year to purchase door security devices for classrooms. School board members in May voted to accept the donation of 52 Barracuda Intruder Defense Systems.

The Barracudas — a simple steel locking device designed to secure classroom doors against unauthorized opening — were purchased for approximately $5,700 after the money was raised in a community-driven fundraiser led by West Lincoln parent Melaine Smith Daigle. Donations came in from around Lincoln County and even out-of-state, and an unnamed donor wrote a check for the final $1,000 when the fundraiser was close to its goal.

West Lincoln Principal John Shows said he was satisfied with the Barracudas in place at the school, most of which are mounted on the wall behind classroom doors for easy access. He said school officials tested the devices during summer lockdown drills and found they take around 10 seconds to deploy and stood up to pressure.

“I had a couple of my coaches, bigger guys, try to open the doors, and they couldn’t get in,” Shows said. “We used them once and they worked well. Even if it gives you two or three more minutes, that’s extra protection for your students.”

A similar effort was launched at Loyd Star to raise money for the devices.

Myers last year said security analyses of all four county schools were ongoing.

“The security analysis is always an ongoing process,” Myers said. “We’ve had several agencies involved in recent months in assessing and providing training to maximize the safety of our schools. Regulations do not prohibit budgeting and purchasing equipment to enhance safe and orderly schools.”

A task force convened by Gov. Phil Bryant recommended that every school have a school resource officer — typically an armed law enforcement officer. Rep. Baker said he wants to expand a cost-sharing program to encourage that goal, saying the bill would require the state to provide at least $10,000 to every district that qualified.

The legislation doesn’t include a task force recommendation to train teachers or other school personnel to carry guns and act as “school marshals.”

Most debate Wednesday centered on the requirement for the active shooter drills. Republican Rep. Joel Bomgar of Madison unsuccessfully tried to allow districts to decide whether students should participate.

“To force all of the children to go through an active shooter drill that will leave them somewhat terrorized is a decision that ought to be made at a lower level,” Bomgar said.

Representatives rejected that move, as well as a proposed amendment by Republican Rep. Dana Criswell of Olive Branch that would have allowed parents to pull individual students out of drills.

“Children should know where to hide along a wall, where bullets can’t penetrate, how to save and protect each other,” said Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville.

The highest-dollar recommendation in the bill is to hire a school resource officer for all 1,000-plus schools in the state. The state Department of Education says there are now 410 certified officers statewide.

In December, the state Board of Education approved $10,000 grants for 177 officers, totaling $1.77 million in the program, called Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools. School districts must match the funds, but in reality, Welch said it costs about $50,000 in salary and benefits to hire a school resource officer.

The state set aside $5 million for the program in 2013-2014, when it was created after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But officials only disbursed about $2.2 million that year, in part because some districts said their officers didn’t fulfill all functions required in the program.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.