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Veterans as armed KY school ‘guardians?’ GOP bill addresses classroom safety

Lexington Herald-Leader - 2/23/2024

In an effort to bolster classroom security as national anxiety around school shootings continues, a Republican lawmaker is proposing that Kentucky schools be allowed to hire non-law enforcement armed “guardians” to secure schools.

Senate Bill 2 from Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, would, among other things, allow individuals with certain law enforcement or combat backgrounds to carry concealed weapons and provide safety at schools in Kentucky.

Schools are currently required to have armed School Resource Officers, who are most often members of the local police or sheriff’s department, at each school campus. Wise said 600 school campuses currently don’t have School Resource Officers due to lack of funds, and that allowing districts to bring on “guardians” would help close the school safety gap.

The bill also aims to address mental health issues in schools via trauma-informed care, data collection and suicide prevention programming.

It’s not a guarantee of passage, but the assignment of Senate Bill 2 is generally a sign that legislators favor a specific measure.

The peoposal would expand efforts established by 2019’s Senate Bill 1, a school safety bill filed by Wise in response to the Marshall County school shooting in West Kentucky.

Senate Bill 2’s two major proposals are:

Allowing individuals who aren’t police officers with certain qualifications to act as “guardians,” similar to School Resource Officers, in districts that can’t afford to place one of those officers in each school. They would be there for safety purposes, not disciplinary, and they would be allowed to carry concealed weapons in school.

Integrating multiple school staffers into a comprehensive team with the goal of “support(ing) students affected by trauma, identify(ing) mental health issues, and (promoting) resilience and wellness among all students.”

The bill’s Kentucky Guardian Program would allow “honorably discharged military veterans, retired Kentucky state troopers, retired law enforcement officers and former federal agents” to provide safety services on public K-12 campuses and conceal carry weapons.

They would be required to undergo the first level of School Resource Officer training, which lasts 40 hours, to be eligible for the role. School Resource Officers currently have to undergo three levels of training lasting 40 hours each.

The guardians would be allowed to carry guns but wouldn’t be required to do so under the bill.

The Kentucky Guardian Program is not aimed at replacing School Resource Officers, Wise said. It’s “an additional layer” of safety that schools can pursue if they choose.

Wise said no appropriations were included in the bill. Payment, or non-payment, of the “guardians” would be up to the school districts, he said.

Beyond the Marshall County shooting, Wise mentioned that his bill was partially responding to concerns raised after tragic school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee.

“(We’re) filling a gap. If the School Resource Officer is not available within a school district, here’s an opportunity, here’s another outlet for them to be able to contract with and work with,” he said.

The bill’s focus on uplifting a trauma-informed approach in education goes against the spirit of an earlier anti-diversity, equity and education bill from Sen. Steven Meredith, R-Leitchfield. Meredith’s bill, which has not advanced in the Senate. It would eliminate some statutory language on “trauma-informed approaches”

Senate Bill 2 would require that students in grades 6-12 undergo “two evidence-based suicide prevention awareness lessons each school year.”

There’s also a school mapping component to the bill, which Wise said will ensure that “our law enforcement community knows each and every aspect of a school building across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

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