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April 18, 2013

Payne County school administrators praise school safety legislation

STILLWATER, Okla. — Area school administrators believe four new school safety bills signed into law on Tuesday are a step in the right direction.

“Anytime you bring more attention to school safety, that’s a good thing,” said Cushing Public Schools Superintendent Koln Knight.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed the four Senate bills that were the result of a task force headed up by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb. The Oklahoma Commission on School Security, which included Morrison science teacher Tammy Will, submitted several safety recommendations to the state legislature for consideration.

The 22-member task force was formed after 20 children and six school employees were killed in a shooting rampage in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

SB 257 directs the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security to create a new division — the Oklahoma School Security Institute, which will act as a central agency of school security information and resources. The goals of the institute will be to maximize school security and training.

“I think the institute has great potential to be a valuable resource for schools,” Knight said.

Will said the institute will serve as a central location at which schools can access security information. It will include information, and possibly instruction, on mental health     issues as they relate to school safety.

SB 258 requires schools to meet a Nov. 1 deadline for submitting security reports to emergency responders and agencies. The schools will be required to annually provide updated plans for school security and emergency situations.

“We are willing to implement anything that is going to make our schools more secure,” Morrison Public Schools Superintendent Jay Vernon said.

One of the bills, SB 256, requires school districts to conduct lockdown drills in addition to fire, intruder and tornado emergency drills.

SB 259 requires school authorities to immediately report to law enforcement if a firearm is discovered on a student or an adult who isn’t authorized to possess a firearm on school property.

Knight said several elements about the new law are initiatives Cushing is already practicing.

“Firearms are not allowed on school grounds,” Knight said. “If I found (a firearm), it is already the law that we call the police.”

Will said most schools regularly practice drills and emergency procedures, but the new law makes it a requirement and creates uniformity throughout schools in the state.

Vernon agreed, saying that Morrison schools already conduct extensive safety drills each semester. He said in the event a student or unauthorized person is in possession of a gun, it is always reported to law enforcement officials.

“I am very pleased with all the input we got with the wide variety of experts on the committee,” Will said.

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