Bill requires school safety standards, grant funding for improvements | #schoolsaftey

Legislation to require regular inspections of public schools’ security features and set up a fund to award grants for improvements received its first vote in the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 98 by Sen. Arthur Orr, would require the Alabama State Board of Education to establish a rubric for inspections of schools every five years. It should include standards for security features including security cameras, alarm systems, locks on interior and exterior doors, emergency escapes and “any other physical measures used to strengthen the security of school facilities and school grounds.”

The board would also set the requirements of the school inspectors, who the bill said would be neutral parties with experience in school security.

Following the inspections, each school would be assigned a letter grade, A, B, C, D or F, on security measures and a list of recommendations for improvement.

Orr told Alabama Daily News the bill will give state leaders comparable data on schools’ security infrastructure and where the most need lies.

“You will have a common grading component statewide,” Orr said. “You won’t have one school saying, ‘We need help,’ when really they’re in pretty good shape when compared to a school two counties over.’”

The bill establishes a School Security and Fire Safety Fund. The state board can award grants to schools to allow them to improve security measures. Priority will be given to schools with D or F grades. Funds can also be used to comply with fire safety recommendations.

The legislation does not specify an amount lawmakers will dedicate to the fund each year. Orr said it will depend on the budget year, but he estimates $10 million to $20 million.

A comment from the Alabama Department of Education was not available this week.

In November, the state fire marshal said the “vast majority” of public schools in Alabama have fallen behind on maintaining safety and security systems.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, has in recent months led the House’s School Safety Advisory Commission, a panel of lawmakers and stakeholders, exploring school security gaps.

She recently told ADN the panel expects to have some legislative recommendations soon.

Orr’s bill also requires updated, electronic school maps to be shared with local law enforcement agencies.

Some of that sharing of building layouts and information is already happening, but improvements could be made, Collins said.

“We do need to improve the monitoring and the measurements and the collaboration (between local schools and law enforcement),” Collins said.

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