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Are Kentucky schools safe? Assessing laws following Texas shooting

Kentucky safety officials plan to use the events of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas as a learning lesson.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 9:51 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky safety officials plan to use the events of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas as a learning lesson, just as they did when the state had a school shooting of its own in 2018.

“There’s a lot of folks who are now talking, ‘Okay, what are we going to do that’s preventative, we’ve got to do something,’” Ben Wilcox, state school security marshal said. “We have, we did it three years ago, and it’s working.”

In 2019, the General Assembly made sweeping changes to ensure schools were safer after two students were shot dead the year before at Marshall County High School.

Under the School Safety and Resiliency Act which passed in 2019, schools are required to implement security measures even before a visitor steps inside of the building. The main entrance doors remain locked with a camera buzzer used to identify those coming inside, and classroom doors stay locked during instruction.

The law also mandates other measures, including safety assessments in schools and mental health and active shooter training for both teachers and school resource officers.

In addition, the law passed in 2019 requires every school in Kentucky to have an armed officer inside the building, however, just 43% of schools in the state do.

Last legislative session, lawmakers passed an additional measure to help districts that did not have the resources to put SROs in every building. The law requires the state to collect data from each district without SROs to determine the reason why they are unable to place them in schools, whether it’s due to lack of money or manpower. State safety officials will then present that data to the General Assembly which will work to budget for certain resources to get more armed officers inside schools.

“It’s not designed to punish the districts that don’t have officers, it’s to find out what the district needs to get those officers,” Wilcox said. “We haven’t been able to present that yet. We have to know how many officers we need, what’s it going to cost, what’s it costing already?”

Executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, Jon Akers told WAVE News armed officers in schools go through intense training on policing, active shooter response, and mental health.

“These individuals in the schools serve as role models, mentors,” Akers said. “They’re not just there to see how many people they can arrest. They’re there to get into prevention.”

It’s difficult to measure how helpful SROs are in preventing danger inside a school, but Wilcox said it likely happens often.

“Having an armed officer on the premises can act as a deterrent,” Wilcox said. “We don’t know how many active shooter situations didn’t happen because we had an armed officer. I also wish I had the data of how many active shooter incidents that didn’t happen because that officer was a trusted adult to somebody in the school who was able to work with students, so we didn’t get to that point.”

Safety officials also stressed the fact that schools cannot keep children safe 24/7. They encouraged the public and parents to help protect children when they’re out of the classroom by reporting suspicious social media activity to police and paying attention to what your child is doing.

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