The House Advisory Commission on School Safety and Security met for the first time in years on Tuesday as House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, urged the commission to reassess current policies.
Ledbetter said legislation that is designed to protect schools and shield both students and educators will always be given top priority in the Alabama House.
“This legislature stands ready to take the actions necessary to ensure that children who are sent to school in the morning are returned home safely in the evening,” Ledbetter said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal – and among our most important duties as elected officials – is to provide schoolchildren with a learning environment that makes them feel safe, secure, and supported at all times.”
The commission, formed by resolution in 2016, is comprised of legislators, law enforcement officials, educators, and mental health professionals who provide the House leadership with recommendations and counsel on school security measures that are considered by the Alabama Legislature.
The commission is chaired by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who chaired the Legislature’s Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security in 2016
“School security is not an issue that can be addressed once and forgotten,” Collins said. “It is an issue that demands constant review in order to ensure that our students, teachers, and support personnel are protected and secure during school hours.
“While we pray that they do not occur on any campus, the mission of this committee is to help ensure schools are equipped with the resources necessary to deal with emergencies ranging from active shooter situations to severe weather events and everything in between,” she continued. “It is important for us to meet as new security measures and technology are constantly developed and incidents that occur across the nation offer examples of how we can better react when schools are threatened.”
Collins spent the first portion of the meeting having members introduce themselves, as the commission had several new members as well as some returning faces from the 2016 task force.
Members of the commission spent the rest of the initial meeting bandying about ideas on where there may be gaps currently, as well as the things the state is doing well right now.
One issue that drew a lot of focus is access by law enforcement to digital mapping of the schools. Former State Rep. Proncey Robertson, representing school security tech vendor “Inside”on the commission, said the system should allow law enforcement to access that data—it’s just a matter of local education officials creating partnerships with law enforcement.
There was discussion of potentially mandating some access to the maps by legislation, but Collins said there may even be opportunities to create minimum standards through the State Department of Education.
“Minimum standards” was the buzzword Collins and others kept returning to as they discussed how to improve school safety, while noting they believe Alabama is ahead of other states overall.
Collins said more outside programs will be coming to speak at the commission’s next meeting to give potential avenues for the commission to make recommendations.
There are no deadlines at this time, as far as Collins is aware. She told members that they can work on solutions and present those at whichever time, however that needs to be done, and noted that the upcoming legislative session begins in February.