#schoolsafety | Lawmakers push for passage of school safety plan | News

BOSTON — With the legislative clock winding down, lawmakers and school safety advocates are pushing for passage of a proposal aimed at identifying potential acts of violence in schools and training staff and students to recognize threats. 

The measure, which passed the state Senate last week, calls for creating an anonymous tip line to report incidents at schools and offering “evidence-based” training for school students to deal with mental health and safety issues.

If approved, the SAVE Students Act would also require the state Department of Education to come up with a “model threat assessment policy” for middle and high schools with specific protocols for identifying and intervening in potentially dangerous situations. 

“Simply put, we can save lives by implementing common-sense protocols for recognizing, reporting, and responding to red flags,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, one of the bill’s primary sponsor, in remarks ahead of its approval in the Senate last Friday. “These are life-or-death stakes.” 

Finegold said the proposal is aimed at preventing more violence amid a spate of mass shootings and school attacks nationwide. He cited data showing 185 students, teachers and school staff have been shot and killed in the past 25 years.

“Hundreds more have been injured, and well over a quarter million students have been exposed to gun violence during school hours,” Finegold said. “Far too many to count are dealing with life-long trauma.” 

Developed with the group Sandy Hook Promise, the training for students would use “evidence-based” research to educate students about the signs of potential violence and get help for dealing with mental health issues. 

“This would help students to recognize the warning signs that we know are always there,” said Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and is a co-founder of the organization. “It would give them the tools and the training to tell a trusted adult who can then get access to the support or services they need, before it becomes a tragedy.”

To be sure, many schools have hired private companies to train students and staff on responding to active shooter situations and to report signs of any threats. 

Likewise, enhanced security features have become common for many schools as they struggle to handle the threat of attacks on their buildings.

Many districts have incorporated security designs into new buildings — such as panic buzzers, electronic door locks, high-tech cameras and specialized glass meant to slow down a shooter. Other schools have created secure vestibules at the main entrance, where visitors are screened before being allowed inside.

But so far only a handful of states, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina, have implemented statewide anonymous reporting systems.

Finegold’s bipartisan bill is backed by the number of lawmakers including Sens. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen and Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

Despite the support, it’s not clear whether the proposal will come up for a vote in the House before the Dec. 31 end of the two-year legislative session.

Lawmakers wrapped up formal sessions on Monday to campaign for reelection, and aren’t expected to reconvene in full meetings for several months. 

Lawmakers can still vote on bills during informal sessions after July 31, but they lack sufficient numbers to challenge any vetoes or amendments. And debate on bills can be scuttled by opposition from a single lawmaker.

Finegold says he believes there is enough support for the bill to get it across the finish line and doesn’t believe anyone would oppose it coming up for a vote. 

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

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