BOSTON (State House News Service) — As students and teachers prepare to return to classrooms in the coming weeks, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that he will soon ask the Legislature to approve a nearly $40 million plan that invests in school safety initiatives and provides students, staff and emergency responders with the training to better respond to violent threats within schools.
During a morning news conference, Baker said the supplemental budget he will file "in the coming weeks" will include almost $40 million for matching grants for security and communications upgrades in K-12 schools and public higher education campuses, safety and multi-hazard emergency planning grant funding for child care providers, grants for school districts to pilot an anonymous threat reporting tip line, the creation of a "comprehensive school safety website," support for ongoing emergency response training for school officials, and funding for a statewide "Say Something" public awareness campaign.
"Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already significant mental and behavioral health challenges for many of our kids who are in need of additional supports and services. Now we know those challenges have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and a series of very publicized public tragedies that have taken place around the country. It's also no secret that that over the course of the past several years, school classrooms and schools in particular instances have become targets of gun violence," Baker said. "While we're certainly proud of the work that's been done in Massachusetts, to extend and enhance our very strong gun laws, which serve as a model we believe for the rest of the country and we're deeply grateful that we haven't experienced any of the devastation in the commonwealth that's been seen elsewhere, we know that there's more that we can and should do to keep kids safe."
Baker said that no student should feel unsafe going to school or have to worry that their classroom is not secure. He said the plan he announced Thursday "will certainly help support that mission and we look forward to sharing more details about this proposal shortly."
The governor's plan will land with a Legislature that has wrapped up most of its business for the two-year session, though weighty matters left unfinished after the July 31 deadline could lead to a busier-than-usual stretch of informal sessions this fall. Senate President Karen Spilka suggested earlier this month that Baker could use a supplemental budget, like the one Baker said Thursday he will soon file, to get issues hung up in talks around the stalled economic development bill back before the House and Senate in another vehicle.
Officials from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security announced Thursday that Massachusetts is the first state in the country to adopt and implement the internationally-recognized National Fire Protection Association's Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) standards and program as the statewide framework for hostile event planning.
"Recent national events provide a tragic and urgent reminder that no community is immune from the unpredictable and devastating impact of a hostile event. The need for pre-planned, integrated response across all first responder discipline has perhaps never been more critical than it is today," EOPSS Senior Policy Advisor Jeff Farnsworth said. "In Massachusetts, we know that a unified approach and coordinated response enhances safety and strengthens community resiliency in our school environments and beyond."
A supplemental budget that Baker signed in October 2018 included $15 million for school safety initiatives and the administration said Thursday that the Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative has awarded $7.5 million to more than 150 districts statewide to invest in security-related infrastructure upgrades and $7.5 million in grant funding to increase mental health support and to support schools' hiring of additional mental health and behavioral health specialists.
The Baker administration said that EOPSS and the Department of Early and Secondary Education "actively and frequently collaborate" on trainings and best practices for emergency and active shooter responses in schools. School superintendents are required to attest each year that they have a "multi-hazard evacuation plan" in place and that training is provided to support that plan.
Written by Colin Young/SHNS.