US States Aim to Increase School Safety after Shootings

    11 April 2023

    An elementary school shooting in the U.S. state of Tennessee recently left three 9-year-olds and three adults dead. Now, state legislatures across the country are moving forward with bills aiming to improve school safety.

    The bills have been introduced in both liberal and conservative states. Some bills would require schools to put in place technology like panic alerts, security cameras and emergency communications systems.

    Lawmakers see the bills as a way to improve school security while avoiding the dispute over gun control. But some experts say teacher safety training is more effective and less costly than the new technologies.

    FILE - Brent Kiger, Olathe Public Schools' director of safety service, displays a panic-alert button while students at Olathe South High School rush between classes, Aug. 19, 2022, in Olathe, Kansas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
    FILE - Brent Kiger, Olathe Public Schools' director of safety service, displays a panic-alert button while students at Olathe South High School rush between classes, Aug. 19, 2022, in Olathe, Kansas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

    Democratic state lawmakers have called for tighter gun laws to prevent school shootings. But many are now also supporting the school emergency measures that have largely been pushed by Republicans.

    In the northwestern state of Oregon, Democrats control the legislature. A bill there would require schools to send electronic warnings to parents as soon as possible after a safety threat. It passed the state House of Representatives with support from all lawmakers. Two Democratic lawmakers are the main writers of another bill that would require all public school classrooms to have panic alert devices. They would contact police or other emergency services when used.

    If passed, the panic alert bill would make Oregon the fourth state to pass the law. Florida, New Jersey and New York have all passed it. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

    Panic alert devices started being used more after the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

    Lori Alhadeff's 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was among the 17 killed. She started the group Make Our Schools Safe and began supporting panic devices. She had texted her daughter as shots were fired that help was on the way.

    "There's really nothing to lose by being prepared," said Lori Kitaygorodsky, the group's spokesperson.

    Some Republican-led states have approved more money for school safety to help schools pay for new devices like panic buttons. CrisisAlert, for example, costs at least $8,000 per school for a three-to five-year contract, said Will Fullerton. He works for Centegix, the company that makes the product.

    After a shooter killed 19 children and two teachers last May at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, state officials announced $105 million for school safety and mental health programs. Nearly half of that was given for bullet-resistant protection for school police. Seventeen million dollars was for school systems to purchase panic-alert technology.

    The Missouri House recently approved a 2024 budget with $50 million for school safety funds. That is on top of the $20 million already approved for school safety in the current year. Schools will be able to use the money on technology including door locking devices, communication systems and video surveillance equipment.

    Ken Trump is the president of National School Safety and Security Services. The group advises schools on safety measures. He said lawmakers often make one-time purchases of new technology, but do not fund the technology over longer periods of time for things like repairs.

    "There's no budget to repair, replace and maintain them after they put them in," Trump said.

    He said the tools are often not properly used. He added that schools should center on training teachers to identify and recognize dangerous situations and make thoughtful decisions under stress.

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    panic — n. a state or feeling of extreme fear that makes someone unable to act or think normally

    surveillance — n. the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime

    maintain — v. to cause (something) to exist or continue without changing

    situation— n. all of the facts, conditions, and events that affect someone or something at a particular time and in a particular place

    stress — n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.