Bills tackling different sides of student safety progress to Senate

Bills tackling different sides of student safety progress to Senate

(Calif.) Schools will be required to include procedures to respond to active shooter situations, and school buses must have seatbelts by 2035 under a pair of bills that passed the Assembly Tuesday.

Student safety has been at the forefront of legislative priorities in California this session, with a handful of lawmakers calling for stronger school security in the wake of increasing numbers of school shootings throughout the country.

Under AB 1747, authored by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, schools would be required to conduct annual active shooter drills in addition to including active shooter procedures in their safety plans.

While many schools do conduct such drills, some face challenges in preparing and responding to incidents of school violence, including active shootings. According to a state audit conducted last year, state law does not require schools to include procedures for responding to active shooter events in their school safety plans and that, as a result, too many schools failed to include such provisions.

“The audit found that many schools and their district offices are lacking critical safety procedures, such as lockdown drills, which are lifesaving in active shooter situations,” Rodriguez told Assembly members. “In a time when school shootings are becoming more prevalent than ever, we must be prepared.”

Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in which 17 people died, followed by that at Santa Fe High School in Texas which left 10 dead earlier this month, the number of violent incidents and threats of violence against schools have increased.

About 50 threats of violence against schools have been made each day on average, compared to an average of about 10 per day in years past, according to the Educators School Safety Network. The national organization which tracks school threats says California leads the list of schools that have had an increase in threats–which have occurred in the cities of Santa Cruz, Inglewood, and Whittier, California.

Rodriguez has also cited last year’s shootings on the in Rancho Tehama Reserve as a key motivator for his bill. After hearing gunfire near the school, staff at the Rancho Tehama Elementary School quickly began locking down the campus. Law enforcement officials credit their swift action with saving the lives of many children that day, and school leaders have cited regular lockdown drills as a major reason staff and students were prepared.

Under AB 1747, every school district and county office of education to conduct at least one active shooter drill each year. Additionally, school resource officers and school-employed mental health professionals must be involved in the planning and implementation of procedures that would be required in school safety plans.

The bill also directs the State Justice Department and the Department of Education to provide guidance on best practices for safety plans and ensure plans are regularly updated.

AB 1798 by Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, addresses the safety of students who take the bus to campus. Under the bill, all school buses must have seatbelts by July 1, 2035.

Only about 12 percent of K-12 students take a bus provided by the school, according to a 2016 report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst–but that’s still close to 700,000 children–and most of them are in rural areas.

Although the National Highway Safety Administration estimates that more than 15,000 lives are saved every year because drivers and passengers involved in accidents wear seat belts, only eight states currently require that school buses be equipped with seat belts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That said, not all of those states have appropriated funding for the cause.

Last year, at least 29 states introduced bills that would address seat belts on school buses, according to the NCSL.

“We know seatbelts save lives,” Chu told the Assembly. “But currently, nearly half the school buses in California do not have seatbelts.”

In order to address the gap, any noncompliant school bus must be retrofitted with passenger restraint systems at all designated seating positions–or replaced by buses equipped with passenger restraint systems–within 17 years.

Both AB 1747 and AB 1798 passed the Assembly unanimously and will be up for further debate in the Senate. more