House panel advances bill withholding Superintendent salaries for schools that don’t meet safety standards

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The legislation builds on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.

School superintendents would have their salaries withheld if the school districts they oversee or the charter schools under their jurisdiction are not complying with state school safety requirements, according to legislation that advanced Tuesday.

The bill (HB 1421) aims, broadly, to build on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, passed in the wake of Florida’s worst school shooting. It looks to make the act’s procedures more transparent and more specific. The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee approved the bill Tuesday, 12-3.

A similar measure (SB 802) also is advancing with bipartisan support in the Senate. It’s due for a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on Wednesday.

The House sponsor, Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, highlighted the bill’s requirement that school districts and charter school governing boards have a plan that draws from student information and notification systems in their official plans for reunifying families in the event schools are shut down due to some emergency. He pointed out the bill also would require that:

— School safety and environmental data are reported in a uniform format that is easy to read.

— All safe school officers complete mental health crisis and intervention training, not just school resource officers.

— Law enforcement responsible for responding to an emergency be physically present during active assailant drills.

— The state Board of Education sets the timing and frequency of emergency drills.

Democratic Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams wanted to know how many school districts have not complied with current state school safety requirements established in 2018.

“It’s not that there’s one district that has not complied, it’s just they haven’t complied fully,” Hawkins, the bill sponsor, explained. “This bill tries to bring that forth, to set standards and rules in place that all school districts will apply.”

Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who was Mayor of Parkland at the time of the MSD shooting, had some questions about whether superintendents really have the authority to enforce charter schools’ compliance with the law. She said the law already mandates that superintendents face consequences for school districts not complying with school safety requirements.

“I just want to make sure whatever is being required of public schools is also required of charters,” Hunschofsky said.

Hawkins said superintendents do have some authority over the charters and should exercise it.

“The superintendents and the school districts approve charters, so they have a responsibility to oversee charters,” Hawkins said. But he then indicated a willingness to adjust.

“I’m willing to listen to you if we can come up with a different set of language that could apply,” he said.

Later, Hunschofsky said she thinks the legislation will be a good addition to current regulations, especially the way it improves procedures for how school districts plan to reunify parents with students after an emergency evacuation.

“Reunification can be a very traumatizing experience for everyone involved,” she said. “In the case of Stoneman Douglas … when the shooting happened at 2:21 p.m., it was still 11:30 at night, midnight, where parents were still awaiting notifications.

“At a time when you’re traumatized and grieving as it is, anything that can be done to make that process less traumatic is a good thing,” she said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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