The report shows that more than 99 percent of Kentucky schools are complying with the new safety standards
State School Security Marshal Ben Wilcox released the 2021-2022 School Risk Assessment Report This week shows improvement in all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts in the safety of Commonwealth students and staff.
Lt. gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former school principal and educator, said administrators, teachers and students have taken the commitment needed to maintain a safe learning environment for everyone who works and learns in the state’s school buildings.
“The Beshear-Coleman Administration is an education-oriented administration. We will always prioritize the safety of students and school staff, and the Commonwealth has put in place a strong critical incident prevention plan that is working, as this report shows,” said Lt. gov. Coleman.
Gov. Andy Beshear’s $18.2 million budget allocation helped schools fund the necessary measures for safer entrances and exits. 99.53% of Kentucky schools are compliant with the School Safety and Resiliency Act (SSRA), according to compliance reviews conducted during the 2021-2022 school year.
“The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas reminds us that all safety codes must be followed to maintain the integrity of a multi-layered safety approach,” said Marshal Wilcox. “The School Safety and Resiliency Act provides a sound approach to safety building, mental health advocacy, emergency planning, law enforcement engagement and staff training. While our compliance numbers are high, we still need to work to close the gap to 100% compliance. Our goal is always the safest learning environment for our children.”
That SSRA was signed into law in March 2019, which mandates that school districts across Kentucky be held accountable for the safety of Commonwealth students and employees. SSRA required by law that a recorded school risk assessment be completed by the end of the 2020-2021 school year and each subsequent year.
That Office of the State School Security Marshal (OSSSM), based within the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, assessed facilities in all 173 Kentucky school districts for compliance with SSRA mandates. Undeterred by adjusting to a new post-pandemic normal, school leaders faced challenges but remained focused on one thing — the kids of Kentucky.
“Our top recommendation for the new school year is that teachers and staff have a plan for critical school incidents, that districts maintain contingency plans, and that teachers continue to secure classrooms, exterior doors and front entrances,” Marshal Wilcox stated during today’s press conference. “We must continue to work together to assign a school resource officer to every campus in the state and meet the goal of having one school-based psychologist for every 250 students.”
The OSSSM comprises 15 Compliance Officers assigned to school districts across the Commonwealth who assess compliance with the SSRA alongside school leadership, school resource officers and school safety coordinators. A security assessment is made for measures such as electronically locked front doors, surveillance, locked classroom doors during class hours, classroom window coverings, a threat assessment team per school, emergency response plans for various scenarios including fire, severe weather, earthquake or building closures, and evacuation routes.
OSSSM compliance officers are often local community members who are a trusted resource and committed to creating a stronger and safer place for children to learn.
Since taking office in late 2019, the Beshear-Coleman administration has consistently demonstrated its commitment to keeping Kentucky children safe on campus and in the classroom.
In April 2022, the governor signed House bill 63, which introduces new school resource officer (SRO) requirements for school districts. The new law requires every campus to have an SRO, if possible, by August 1, 2022. The law further provides that “if sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available for this purpose for each campus, the local board of education shall meet the requirements of this subsection on a campus basis, as approved in writing by the state school safety marshal, until a certified School Resource Officer is assigned and works on-site, full-time at each campus in the district.”
That Training of the Ministry of Criminal Justice provides SROs with 120 hours of specialized training in addition to basic law enforcement response for school work. These include mental health awareness courses, skills for working with students with special needs, cultural diversity and active protection behaviors.
All of Kentucky’s 173 school districts were required to submit their safety plan to the OSSSM for review in August. Currently, OSSSM can report that more than 50% of Kentucky school campuses have an HB 63 SRO. Since Gov. Beshear enacted HB 63, there has been a 21% increase in SROs tasked with protecting Kentucky schools and ensuring children and employees have a safe learning environment.
HB 63 also grants a school the ability to establish a police department. The ability to establish a school police board provides school police officers with a more judicial definition and allows the school police board to apply for grants to assist in hiring SROs.
This approach gives school districts three options for placing SROs on each campus:
• Working with local law enforcement agencies to assign an officer to each campus;
• Hiring and designating a Police Officer Professional Standards (POPS) certified officer as a Special Law Enforcement Officer (SLEO); or
• Start a school-based police agency with Board approval.
In the fall of 2021, Lt. Governor Coleman worked with the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, the Kentucky Regional Education Cooperatives, the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health in the Cabinet of Health and Family Services, and the Cabinet Department of Youth Services for Family Resource Centers to create the Student Mental Health Action Summits . The Roundtable Summits were created to hear directly from students and collect data that could be used to better address students’ mental health.
Recently, the students joined the Lt. Governor to present the Team Kentucky Student Mental Health Initiative and its policy recommendations following last fall’s Student Mental Health Action Summits at the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education in Frankfurt.
The recommendations are:
• Involving and emphasizing the students’ voice;
• Provision of comprehensive suicide prevention;
• Allow excused psychiatric absences;
• expanding access to mental health services and treatment;
• Raising awareness and education about mental health; and
• Increasing and improving professional development in the field of mental health.
That year, Gov. Beshear signed House Bill 44, which allows school district attendance policies to include provisions for excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons. The bill provides that a student can ensure they are mentally fit for the classroom without facing consequences for missed absences.
“We all know that the pandemic has brought its own set of challenges and certainly created problems that none of us have had to deal with before, but it has also exacerbated old ones,” said Lt. gov. Coleman during her testimony to the interim joint committee on education on August 16.
Kentucky Justice and Security Cabinet