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Virginia Tech shooting shows need for school safety laws Photo used courtesy of ACT MTV.

School safety a key focus of 2013 legislation

More than 30 states passed school safety laws in 2013, according to a report released by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The report covered legislation on two related topics: mental health and school safety.

ECS found that school safety legislation has been on the rise since the Columbine shooting in 1999. But the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., is what most likely influenced much of the legislation passed in 2013. “Most of the school safety-related legislation in 2013 focused on securing schools against internal and external safety threats,” Micah Ann Wixom, the ECS policy analyst who reviewed school safety laws, told AS&U. “For example, several states passed legislation updating emergency drill policies with a trend toward ‘lockdown’ or ‘intruder’ drills. These types of drills are held to secure a school where there is a potentially dangerous person on campus, whether student, staff or outsider,” she said.

Building security was also a prominent part of last year’s school safety legislation. “Some states also looked at improving safety in the physical buildings and facilities,” Wixom said. States like Connecticut and Georgia where gunmen were able to enter school buildings highlight concerns regarding building security.

As a result, “a few states will give school districts one-time grants to purchase security equipment or make other physical security enhancements. Washington, as an example, requires school boards to consider installing perimeter safety systems,” Wixom explained.

Mental health issues also played a part in school safety legislation. Virginia, which experienced a tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, passed legislation that allows its public four-year institutions to work with “local hospitals and other local mental health facilities in order to expand the scope of services available to students seeking treatment,” ECS’ Jennifer Thomsen, who reviewed mental health legislation said.

The legislation enables schools to get more information about the mental health treatment that its students receive. “The bill requires each memorandum to designate a contact person to be notified when a student is involuntarily committed or when a student is discharged from a facility and consents to such notification,” Thomsen said. “The bill also requires each memorandum to include the institution in the post-discharge planning of a student who has been committed and intends to return to campus, to the extent allowable under state and federal privacy laws,” she explained.

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