Blue lockers seen in a school hallway. (Getty)
A state commission Tuesday focused on two topics: preventing threats to school safety and ensuring proper communication when a violent incident erupts.
School shootings were a focus of the School Safety Advisory Commission’s discussion, but there was little talk of guns. Alabama has some of the highest firearm death rates in the country.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the chair of the commission, said Tuesday that mental health issues often came up in school shootings outside Alabama.
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“I think every time we’ve seen a shooting episode in any of the other states,” she said. “You can see there were obvious mental health issues involved in that. They were usually what I see, as someone who has a heart for young people anyway, sometimes people crying out for help that were not being heeded.”
The School Safety Advisory Commission began under former Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutechon, R-Monrovia in 2016. It was reinstated in 2018 after shootings in Parkland, Florida and Birmingham, according to the Associated Press. Current House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainesville, revived it.
“I always said this committee from the speaker was a feet on the ground, how’s it being implemented, how does it work and how do we make sure that we don’t have gaps?” Collins said.
Educators and law enforcement described both responses and resources they had in response to emergency events.
Alabaster Superintendent Wayne Vickers, a member of the commission, said that his district provides crisis alert buttons to faculty and staff members. He said not every district has access to the same wealth.
“That shouldn’t be because I have the money to be able to do that,” he said.
Collins said that the previous iterations of the commission led to additional funding for mental health coordinators. 114 Alabama school districts received grants for mental health coordinators in the 2021-22 school year, according to the Hechinger Report.
The commission also discussed responses when a school shooting does happen, including the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others.
Scot Peterson, a school resource officer, did not enter the building during the shooting. He was fired and later with felony child neglect, negligence and perjury. But a jury acquitted him after his attorneys said during trial Peterson could not tell where the shooter was or where the gunfire was coming from, according to CNN.
The commission also discussed the law enforcement response to the 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary in Texas, where law enforcement was criticized for not taking immediate action. A report by Texas lawmakers said that at least 100 of the 142 shots fired by the gunman were before any police entered the school, according to the Associated Press. Body camera footage showed the head of the city’s SWAT team approaching classrooms when gunfire began at 11:37 a.m. Officers breached classrooms 72 minutes after that, at 12:50 p.m.
Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, asked law enforcement at the meeting about plans in the event of shooting.
Henry County Sheriff Eric Blankenship said that some officers might want a clear chain of command, with fears of violating policy restraining some.
“You look at a lot of officers, then, who are now in fear, ‘Okay, if I do this, I’m going to violate policy, but if I don’t do this, then this is going to happen,” he said. “So to answer that question, it’s hard to answer because it’s agency by agency and whoever has the policy, procedures.”
Potential gun safety legislation did not come up during discussion. After the meeting, Collins said she had not heard anything about it.
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