By Julie Wiessner
The latest proposal to help prevent incidents such as the shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school was presented by Democrat House Minority Leader Chad Campbell Jan. 9 when he announced his outline for safe schools, The Arizona Safer Schools, Safer Communities Plan.
The proposed bill addresses issues such as school safety, the needs of the mentally ill and gun ownership. To make schools safer, Campbell wants to expend a total of $100 million to fund school resource officers, emergency response training and technical assistance, school counselors and a grant for security officers. Another $161 million would go toward services for the seriously mentally ill that would include expanded medical coverage.
Also proposed are changes to gun sales that would include adding background checks to firearms purchased from gun shows and other individuals.
In response to Campbell’s proposed package, Winslow School District Superintendent Doug Watson stated, “I think Rep. Campbell’s is a more thoughtful solution to the complex problem than simply arming more people at schools.” He added that the Winslow district, like most school districts, has shown its continued support of School Resource Officers (SROs) by partnering with the city to continue the program after funding was cut from the state budget.
When asked if he was opposed to an armed person at each school Watson replied, “Simple answer, no, I am not opposed to a highly and appropriately trained armed person at a school. Our schools are among the safest places that children can be. Acts such as the Newtown shootings are very rare. Great pains are taken to feed the children that enter the school doors, tend to their emotional needs, teach citizenship and provide a quality edu-cation that will help them to become productive citizens as they reach adulthood. Each year we are asking our schools, including administrators, to do more and more with less and less.
“Mr. (Attorney General Tom) Horne’s idea to have an armed administrator at each school site is a simple-minded response to a complex societal problem. I suppose that putting more guns in schools is the cheapest solution, but in my heart I know it is not the best we can do. If we cannot go to a restaurant, movie theater or a school without fear of being murdered by someone with a gun, I think our leaders, and all of us, need to start reflecting on what kind of a society we have created and what kind of legacy do we want to leave to our children,” Watson said. “If all Arizona can do for children is arm the school principals, we will take that and do the best we can.”
Watson continued by saying that he would prefer state funding for SRO’s in schools be reinstated rather than arming administrators or teachers, as SRO’s serve in a larger educational capacity within a school site, working directly with students and teachers in very important areas that teachers or administrators have little time to address.
Holbrook School District Superintendent Robbie Koerperich also supported measures that would provide a safer educational environment. “It is discouraging that we can’t put these funds toward academic opportunities for kids, which is the essence of what we are supposed to be providing in our schools; however, if societal problems filter into the school at the severity that it has lately, then the first step in educating our kids is to provide a safe environment,” he noted.
“Rarely do we go to other schools in our state or our nation and see how other school organizations are providing services such as school safety. I definitely think there could be some professional development in this area provided by experts in the field.”
The idea of allocating $20 million toward cooperative grants for school safety measures appealed to Koerperich, as well. “School safety measures have a range of possibilities from metal detectors, to school security officers to security entrances, etc. It would be nice to have funds available to support changes in campus security, if needed,” he said.
Koerperich said he felt that funding for counselors would be most beneficial if it included other services, as well. “I believe we need to go beyond school counselors to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. If we get to a situation in which students could be harmful to themselves or others we are really not certified or equipped to deal with student issues at that level,” he said.
The proposed bill will be presented to the legislature for consideration in this session, which began Jan. 9.
By Julie Wiessner