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Senate Education Committee defeats school safety bill

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Mar 6th, 2019 @ 7:03am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday defeated the fourth version HB120, a school safety bill developed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, was passed by the Utah House of Representatives on a vote of 45-27. Amid questions about student privacy and unfunded mandates, the bill failed to advance after it was rejected by a 3-3 vote.

Nearly $100 million in funding was attached to earlier versions of the bill — some $66 million in one-time funds for structural safety measures, which could include vestibule doors or software that enable schools to easily report threats or incidents, and $30 million in ongoing funds to help school districts and charter schools hire mental health professionals and other support personnel.

As the appropriations process has continued, the $30 million intended for personnel hires under SB120 was shifted to HB373, which targets the funding toward in-school mental health supports or contracting for community-based mental health services.

The so-called school-hardening funding was also removed from the bill but is expected to be funded elsewhere, Ward said.

The remaining funding attached to the bill is about $750,0000.

Ward said the bill represents the collaborative efforts of an ad hoc school safety commission, a State School Board task force and organizations representing local school boards and school superintendents.

Now it is primarily focused on establishing a state safety and support team in the office of the State School Board and procedures for school-level threat assessment teams, Ward said.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, expressed "serious concerns about the bill. I have serious concerns the fact this seems to be an unfunded mandate. There's a lot of privacy issues I'm concerned about."

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Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said he worried about giving a school threat assessment team "so many powers that ought to be with the leader and the educators at the school, I think is probably a mistake."

But others insisted that the key component of the bill was the threat assessment team would be made up of a mental health professional, a school administrator, a law enforcement officer and licensed educator.

Terry Shoemaker, representing local school board and school superintendents, said Utahns traveled to Virginia to study its work in this area.

"We studied it. We went to Virginia to look at that model. We feel very comfortable what we saw there," Shoemaker said.

Others expressed concerns that certain students would be more readily singled out as threats than others.

Andrew Riggle, representing the Disability Law Center, said disabled students are disproportionately referred to school discipline.

In earlier testimony, he pointed out that in Virginia, 12 percent of the school-age population are students with disabilities but one-third of referrals to threat assessment teams are students with disabilities.

Despite the support of the governor's office, the Utah PTA and the Utah State Board of Education, the bill stalled on the tie vote.

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