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SALT LAKE CITY — School safety has risen to a top priority in nearly every Utah school district. Even before the deadly shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida, schools were budgeting millions, retrofitting buildings and conducting safety drills.
KSL TV goes in depth on this urgent and important issue that affects nearly every Utah family. Click the headlines below to read the full articles.
The Park City School District is just one of many examples where big changes are underway. This small district is spending $4 million to overhaul school entrances and build perimeter fences around some of the elementary schools.
“A lot of districts already have a lot of these things,” said District Spokeswoman Melinda Colton. “In Park City, we’ve always really prided ourselves that we’re fairly open.”
Not anymore. Most large districts have high-tech options that limit entry into schools.
Utah’s newly formed School Safety Commission hopes to implement important safety changes before the start of the 2018-2019 education year.
“The federal government is too big,” said Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, about waiting for Congress to improve school safety. “I really think local solutions are going to be far more effective.”
The nonpartisan, volunteer commission was formed during the annual session of the Utah Legislature in response to the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
One resource gaining national attention is the SafeUT app, a statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, master level licensed clinicians are busy being the voices behind SafeUT: taking phone calls, responding to students wanting to chat, sending potential safety threat tips to school officials. But it’s the live resource that sets SafeUT apart from others apps around the country.
“It’s the only one like it that we know of,” said Barry Rose, Crisis Service Manager for the University Neuropsychiatric Institute. “Most of the apps out there right now are simply for tips and they are typically managed by law enforcement. Our app is managed by social workers and mental health professionals.”
About 175 miles northwest of Dallas along the sprawling Texas landscape is the town of Harrold. Between the highway and the freeway is the only school for miles, with a student body of 114. The closest sheriff is 15 miles away in Vernon.
Because of the distance, the Harrold School District was the first in the country to arm its teachers more than a decade ago.
“I think that’s the hardest thing to sell is that they think it’s outside the box. Only, it’s inside the box and it’s an improvement,” said Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt, who came up with what he calls a guardian plan to arm teachers.
In the aftermath of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, one thing about accused shooter Nikolas Cruz stands out loud and clear: His brooding anger, disturbing behavior and violent threats raised red flags all over the place.
“It was the worst-kept secret in Parkland,” said Patrick Petty, a student who survived the attack that claimed 17 lives. “We all knew as soon as it happened. As soon as we found out what was happening, we all knew that it was this kid.”
Experts say it’s one thing nearly every school shooting has in common: there are almost always warning signs. That’s why there’s a long-running effort in the public schools of Virginia to catch those warning signs and do something about them before any bullets start flying. Now, survivors and victim relatives from Parkland, Fla., and Sandy Hook, Conn., are pushing for Virginia-like programs across the country.
In search of safer schools for our children, we’re looking for innovative ideas — some that may even challenge traditional thinking, anything to protect the lives of our most important resource.
One of those ideas was born right here in Utah.
Shelter-In-Place makes weatherproof and bulletproof shelters that can fit inside a classroom. Some schools are already using them in Oklahoma.