Op-Ed: Policy Hearings Offer Roadmap to Safer Schools

Citizens throughout the country watched in horror earlier this year as a gunman claimed the lives of 17 students in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. People were heartbroken to see yet another school shooting taking the lives of the innocent. In the midst of this tragedy, our Senate Majority Policy Committee set out to find solutions to provide a safer environment for our students.

We held 10 public roundtable discussions across the state. Discussions were held these hearings were centered on two goals: reviewing recently enacted laws, and soliciting input and feedback for existing and new proposals to make our schools safer in Pennsylvania.

Each event we held was broken into three main parts: discussion of recently passed laws, discussion of pending proposals before the state legislature, and new ideas for the General Assembly to consider. Participants varied for each roundtable discussion and were based on the local needs and issues of the host community. Events featured officials from the state, local and school levels, safety experts, law professionals and students.

The results of these discussions were compiled into a 16-page report, which is available on my website at www.senatorargall.com. The report features key findings and points of discussion that were held during our statewide series of hearings. Video of each of the roundtable discussions is also available on my website.

Two main recommendations grew out of these hearings: a focus on mental health, and the ability to harden targets. In the end, there was a complete understanding of the importance and the need for school resource officers (SROs). School administrators, students and legislators agreed that SROs were the best deterrent against school violence and one of the most important investments schools can make in order to address the issue of school safety.

These hearings came during the most significant, bipartisan investment in school safety in the history of our Commonwealth. Earlier this year, the General Assembly and the Governor – each branch led by a different political party – agreed to invest a record $60 million in funds in order to provide school safety initiatives for the 2018-2019 state budget.

We have an obligation, a duty to protect our children and our educators and staff in school. This report is the result of a bipartisan effort where state officials, safety experts, and concerned citizens and school officials could come together and talk about an issue that is never easy to address. These kinds of tragedies must be prevented at all costs. I look forward to continuing this work in the next legislative session and I look forward to working with all participants, public and private, House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, to continue finding solutions to ensure our students’ safety.