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Kentucky students recommend ways to prevent, respond to school shootings

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Kentucky Lantern
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McKenna Horsley
Members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council give a presentation on school safety measures after researching the topic and policy recommendations.

Uvalde massacre prompted Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council to look at gun violence

FRANKFORT — After a gunman killed 21 people and wounded 17 others at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last spring, high school students on a Kentucky advisory committee “realized we needed to use our voices to change,” said Malley Taylor, a junior at the Craft Academy in Morehead.

On Tuesday, the students presented their recommendations as the chair of the Kentucky House Education Committee, Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, listened.

The Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, a group of about 30 students from across the state, identified areas where current measures could be improved, such as strengthening active shooting drills and communication with parents and students. They also called for promoting and supporting “gun control legislation that would make it harder for an active shooter/assailant incident in the first place.”

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Kentucky Lantern
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McKenna Horsley
Members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council Peter Jefferson, left, and Joud Dahleh talk to reporters’ after the council’s presentation on school safety measures.

The students advise Education Commissioner Jason Glass, who said to media after the event that he was optimistic the legislature would take students’ recommendations into consideration. The perspective of students and their voices is important in conversations about school safety, he said. “They are the ones that are under the threat of this on a regular basis.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the U.S. has had 39 mass shootings since New Year’s Day. The nonprofit organization tracks data about gun violence across the country.

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Kentucky Lantern
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McKenna Horsley
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass addresses reporters’ after a student advisory council’s presentation on school safety measures.

Taylor said the group was divided into three subgroups to gather information about recommendations on how gun violence should be addressed before, during and after crises occur.

The students released a full report of of their findings: the highlights were:

Before

  • Promote how to use the STOP tipline, which is an anonymous reporting tool, in Kentucky schools. 
  • Improve the rate of intervention in concerning behaviors. 
  • Promote and support gun legislation that would make it harder for an active shooter/assailant incident to occur, including strengthening background checks. 

During

  • Improve the quality of active shooter drills and enforce existing requirements for them. 
  • Improve the training for staff, school resource officers and first responders to ensure quick response times to incidents. 
  • Create a clear notification system to contact students and parents about an event. 

After

  • Provide access to mental health support, including therapy sessions and other mental health professionals. 
  • Host town-hall style meetings in the community. 
  • Repair and rebuild the school building. 
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James Tipton

Tipton, the House Education chair, thanked the students for taking their research seriously and promised that he would read it entirely and bring it back to the legislature. He recalled when he and other lawmakers first learned of the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School during a House Education Committee meeting. A gunman killed two students and injured 14 people. The fifth-year anniversary of the tragedy was Monday.

After the shooting, the Kentucky legislature passed the School Safety and Resiliency Act in 2019. “We’ve already made some great strides there but that does not mean we need to be complacent,” Tipton said. “We need to continue to look at this, we need to continue to study, we need to continue to learn when these unfortunate situations happen,” the chairman said.

To reporters, Tipton said improving school safety through the addition of metal detectors, bullet resistant glass, more school resource officers and supporting mental health and school counseling programs requires funding.

When asked about inclusion of gun control legislation in the students’ presentation, Tipton called it “a polarizing issue.” As a gun owner himself, he said others should be responsible with ownership.

“I think it’s something we need to continue to look at and study and evaluate. I don’t know what the probability of getting something like that passed here in Kentucky (is) … It would be something that would be very difficult but I think we still need to examine that issue,” Tipton said.

Peter Jefferson, a sophomore from Henry Clay High School in Lexington, told reporters that while feeling anxious about a possible school shooting is not constant, it’s something he and his peers are conscious of. Joud Dahleh, a junior at Ignite Institute in Boone County, agreed that it is not a day-to-day focus, but her classmates have had conversations with each other and teachers about it.

“My school is mostly glass so we walk around sometimes and just wonder how safe we would be if that were to occur,” Dahleh said.

This story was originally published by the Kentucky Lantern.

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.
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