Monday, June 2, 2014

House 4121: the gun bill

Thanks to Clive McFarlane today for sending me off to look at what's actually in the gun bill that House leader DeLeo proposed last week. The language pertaining to schools reads as follows:
Section 37P. (a) As used in this section the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-
“Chief of police”, the chief of police or the board or officer having control of the police in a city or town.
“School resource officer”, a duly sworn municipal police officer with all necessary training, up-to-date certificates and a license to carry a firearm charged with providing law enforcement and security services to elementary and secondary public schools.
(b) The school department of a city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school shall, subject to appropriation, employ at least 1 school resource officer to serve the city, town, regional school district or county agricultural school. The school resource officer shall be appointed jointly by the superintendent and the chief of police, in the case of school department of a city or town, or by the superintendent and each chief of police in any city or town served by a regional school district or county agriculture school. 
In appointing school resource officers, superintendents and chiefs of police shall consider candidates that they believe would strive to foster an optimal learning environment and educational community. The appointment shall not be based solely on seniority. The performance of school resource officers shall be reviewed annually by the superintendent and the chief of police.
(c) Upon written application by a school department of a city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school, the secretary of elementary and secondary education may waive the requirements of this section if the secretary believes a school resource office would not assist that particular city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school to ensure safe schools. 
(d) The department of elementary and secondary education shall promulgate any rules or regulations necessary to carry out this section. 
As it happens, there's actually a heck of a lot more in here on what schools must do: they must have a district mental health plan, they must have a device in each school dedicated only to communicating with the police department, they must provide two hours of suicide prevention training each three years.
And the state doesn't want to review the required reporting from school districts...

So, in terms of the officer bit, the bill doesn't require one in every school; it requires one in every district. It does require that the person be a police officer (note that Worcester's school safety person is not). It requires that this person be appointed not by the superintendent, but by the superintendent jointly with the chief of police.
The requirement is "subject to appropriation" and can be waived only by the Commissioner of Education.
Gosh, where to even start with this?
I don't think that the state legislature is in the best position to tell us how to keep our schools safe. I well understand the issues with local control, but we know our schools, we know our school cultures, and it is districts that are best positioned to decide if having a police officer in charge of school security is a good idea. This would REQUIRE it in every school district statewide, unless you get the Commissioner (who also is not in a position to best tell us how to keep our schools safe) gives permission otherwise.
I also have a real issue with a jointly appointed school safety officer, reporting both to the superintendent and to the chief of police. Right now, we have WPD liaison officers, who answer to the chief, but who work with the district and schools on safety; they are citywide. Our school safety, however, is directly under WPS purview, not police department purview.
I am also exhausted by this notion that somehow the only way to keep our kids safe at school is to turn our schools into armed camps. It isn't. Our schools are civic spaces; they are where we are creating the next generation of a civilized society. You don't do that in a prison, not if you want to do it well. It sends an absolute message for kids to have to go past an armed guard to get into school every day, and that message is NOT 'this is a safe place for you to learn and grow.' We have got to stop sticking this only on schools and start dealing with this as a societal issue.
The "subject to appropriation" implies a) that the state is paying for it b) if they are able. That's far too weak a reed for me to depend on.
There's a whole lot more going on here than a gun control bill, and some of it is not good. Should you be in Boston, the public hearing starts at noon in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House tomorrow. Otherwise, write to your reps.

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