One thing that is on many parents mind as it gets closer to the school year is school safety. Idaho state Rep. Wendy Horman said surveys show more parents care about school safety than what their child is learning in the classroom.
“If we think that school safety is an education-only issue, we’ve made our first strategic error,” she said.
Each year, the Idaho Legislature spends about $9 million on school safety and security. A 2016 bill created the Office of School Safety and Security. Part of that is an advisory board made up of those who would be involved if an incident were to happen. The office also has a staff of five that travels to different Idaho schools to perform vulnerability and threat assessments. According to the Educational Committee of the States, Idaho is one of 13 states, along with Washington, D.C., that does these assessments.
“They examine physical vulnerabilities,” Horman said. “Are doors unlocked? Are rocks holding the doors open when they’re supposed to be closed? The first year we ran this our security analysts could go into a building. On average, they could be inside the building for about 10 minutes before anyone would confront them and they were without a visitor badge. We’ve made a lot of improvement since then.”
The Office of School Safety and Security also works with local law enforcement agencies to develop on-site training for teachers in their own buildings. They not only focus on the physical vulnerabilities, but also areas such as bullying and harassment policies.
“It’s one thing to have a certificate that says you’ve been trained in school safety and security,” Horman said. “It’s a completely different thing to actually be trained on the environment in your own building. How would you react if this incident or that incident happened? That’s really where the rubber meets the road, is in the buildings.”
Legislators took school safety a step further in 2018 with the amendment of a law to be able to charge students for making threats on social media.
“A threat was made on social media in the Moscow area and they were able to arrest that person,” Horman said. “Where as, under the previous statute, they would not have been able to because the threat wasn’t on school grounds.”
Horman said the Legislature is doing a lot for school safety, but they can always do more.
“And we are. We’re working hard,” she said. “The legislature is very committed to school safety. We fund it. We created this office. And again, as we develop expertise, we’re working to share that as quickly as we can out into the field and work in partnership with other who are also working in that space.”
Horman said Idaho is ahead of the curve with the vulnerability assessments. She said Wyoming is currently trying to copy the legislation.
Horman also said most of the schools in the state have done a vulnerability assessment. She said there are a lot of new charter schools they will be looking at next.