Oklahoma City – A state Senate press release declared the state’s “public schools will be more secure under legislation signed into law” by Governor Kevin Stitt on Wednesday, June 7.
Retired educator, Senator Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, “led the charge this session to ensure all districts meet certain safety standards to better protect students and staff.”
Senate Bill 100 was one of the top recommendations of the bipartisan School Safety Working Group, which Pemberton chaired.
“After visiting with school administrators and visiting numerous school sites, it became alarmingly apparent that we needed to create a uniform system of safety standards and protocols to ensure all our students and staff are fully protected during an emergency. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a rural or urban, poor or affluent district, all schools should be safe havens where learning is the focus and students can thrive,” Pemberton said.
“I’m grateful for Representative [Dick] Lowe’s help in getting this across the finish line and for the overwhelming support of our legislative colleagues and Governor Stitt.”
The measure requires the state’s more than 2,000 school sites to undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment from the Oklahoma School Security Institute (OSSI) or a nationally qualified assessor by July 1, 2026, and then every five years after. Recommendations will include ways to improve facility security. The new law goes into effect July 1, 2023.
Representative Dick Lowe, R-Amber, was the principal House author of S.B. 100.
“Security is the last thing children and teachers should ever have to worry about while they are involved in the process of learning,” Lowe said.
“This bill will help us ensure our schools are as safe as they can be with the proper staff, security features and protocol in place to protect our children and those who work to educate them.
“I’m grateful to Senator Pemberton for authoring this measure and the governor for signing it into law.”
The Legislature allocated $1.4 million to the state Department of Education (SDE) to allow the OSSI to hire ten additional staffers to help conduct all the risk assessments in the allotted time period.
The Senate bills advanced without noticeable discord at the Capitol this spring, in the end gathering unanimous bi-partisan backing, including some Democrats serving as co-sponsors for the measures.
The last week of session, the state’s chief executive also signed H.B. 2903 and H.B. 2904, creating a three-year school safety pilot program to provide each district with approximately $96,000 to hire a school resource officer or make necessary security upgrades.
The other measure provides a one-time appropriation of $150 million to fund the safety program.
While both of those proposals in the end had strong bi-partisan support, debate on the measures was rancorous at times, with two Oklahoma City Democrats — Senators Carri Hicks and Julia Kirt — characterizing them as having racist impact before final passage.
Republicans ardently rebuffed the contentions, which were based on faulty research from activist organizations. The GOP members explicitly rejected contentions that School Resource Officers (SROs) would wind up focusing on minority students.
Hicks and Kirt voted “yes” when H.B. 2904 (the appropriating measure for the policies in H.B. 2903) passed unanimously near the end of the legislative session.
Note: Pat McGuigan of The City Sentinel prepared this story for posting, working with a Senate staff press release, and adding information about tassertions advanced by Hicks and Kirt during legislative deliberations.