School safety bill proceeds with controversial provision on superintendents’ salaries removed

Shooting At High School In Parkland, Florida Injures Multiple People
The bill is an effort to bolster the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act Public Safety Act.

New rules to bolster school safety were unanimously approved in a House committee Wednesday absent a controversial provision that would have withheld superintendents’ salaries for not complying with state safety requirements.

Republican Rep. Fred Hawkinsbill (HB 1421) got its second committee approval — and the first unanimous one — at the House Secondary Education & Career Development Committee. The bill aims to update the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, passed in the wake of Florida’s worst school shooting.

“This bill improves transparency around school safety and security as well as addresses student mental health by requiring district school boards and charter school governing boards to adopt a plan that guides family reunification when K-12 public schools are closed or unexpectedly evacuated due to natural or manmade disasters,” Hawkins said.

The last committee hearing in front of the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee produced some concern from Democrats about the superintendent salary provision. They questioned whether it was necessary, since superintendents already face having their salaries withheld for not complying with state Department of Education requirements. And they also questioned whether superintendents have enough authority over charter schools to force charter school compliance with state school safety as the bill requires.

An amendment from Hawkins axed the provision in question.

The bill requires that law enforcement be on campus at the time of safety drills, and a Wednesday amendment made it so the school has to give the participating agency 24-hour notice of a scheduled drill.

Other provisions of the bill are:

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

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

— Schools have a plan to leverage the use of social media and other information systems, such as the attendance record of that day, to facilitate reunification of students with their parents if the school building is unexpectedly evacuated or closed because of an emergency.

A similar bill (SB 802) is on the Senate agenda, sponsored by Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, and is moving forward with bipartisan support.

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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