School safety proposal could run up against tight state budget

With an eye toward the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, a Grand Junction Republican plans to introduce legislation that would make Colorado the first state in the nation to require that every school — from preschools through universities — develop a plan and conduct training to prepare for disasters. “If you haven’t thought about it, we want you to think about it,” state Rep. Steve King told 9News, but the incoming speaker of the House, state Rep. Terrance Carroll, cautioned that a statewide lockdown procedure could be too expensive during a tight budget year.

“I think it’s important for school districts to be prepared for any emergency situation from natural disasters to fires to school violence,” Carroll told 9News reporter Adam Schrager. “The question with Rep. King’s proposal is can we afford to do it right now or is there a way we can work toward making it happen long-term.”

The Denver Democrat said that, while he understood the need, imposing an “unfunded mandate” on financially-strapped school districts could be difficult because the state probably won’t be able to chip in funding this year. “We’re facing budget shortfalls in all likelihood going into this next legislative session and anything with a price tag, we’re going to look at long and hard.”

“The intent here is to make everyone in Colorado safer when they’re in an educational facility. Make it cost-effective, but make it happen,” said King, a former sheriff’s deputy, in a Grand Junction Free Press article published last week.

“When we do a fire-alarm drill, does that cost any money to the taxpayers of Colorado and yet, we haven’t had a student killed in a fire in over 50 years and we’re doing that type of training,” King told 9News.

While 13 states have requirements similar to King’s proposal, none include schools with students of all ages, King told The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Different types of schools have different requirements in a crisis, King said, pointing to particular communication challenges at large, spread-out college campuses.

Noting that schools in California are required to have a disaster plan and conduct training for staff and students, including “periodic drop, cover and hold drills,” the Federal Emergency Management’s FEMA For Kids program offers periodic training and recommends all schools:

• Identify hazards likely to happen to your schools
• Mitigate against the hazards
• Develop a response plan, including evacuation route
• Plan for coping after a disaster
• Implement drills and family education

King plans to introduce his legislation when the Legislature convenes in January.

“It’s sad you even have to [introduce] bill like this, but the reality of the world we live in is that we’re at war,” he told 9News.

Comments are closed.