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Casper Star-Tribune-WNE 

Committee approves bill calling for school safety plans


November 30, 2018

CASPER — Wyoming schools would be required to create a comprehensive safety plan and conduct nationally recognized, proactive security training under a bill advanced by a state legislative committee Wednesday, a measure that represents lawmakers’ primary attempt to better safeguard schools from active shooters.

The bill passed on a 9 to 4 vote in the Joint Education Committee fewer than two weeks after a Gillette junior high student made threats and brought two handguns to school. The measure also represents the most meaningful security-related legislation to be advanced in 2018, after legislative leaders made school safety a priority in the wake of deadly shootings at high schools in Florida and Texas, which were followed by a spurt of threats across Wyoming.

The proposal was crafted by Sen. Affie Ellis, a Cheyenne Republican who was one of two lawmakers to undergo an active shooter training session in Casper in September. She told the Star-Tribune that the experience had a “huge impact” in her efforts behind the bill.

The nine-page proposal would direct the state Department of Education to consult with “homeland security, the attorney general’s office, the state construction department and the state fire marshal (to) create model school safety and security guidelines,” which would be given to the state’s 48 school districts, who would in turn create a “comprehensive safety and security plan.”

That plan would be required, among other things, to include intervention techniques for students who display warning signs; publicizing to all staff the ways to alert first responders; and a way to comply with required training.

The bill would further mandate that training be based on or provided by a nationally recognized organization — like ALICE, which trains Natrona County School District

employees and whose program Ellis went through. The program would have to train employees on how to recognize when an attack has begun; how to alert staff and first responders of the attack; how to safely evacuate or barricade school buildings and rooms; and to “use noise, movement, distance, distraction or subterfuge to interrupt a violent intruder attack.”

Ellis said she did not consult with officials from ALICE — which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate — while crafting the bill. Still, the training that the bill would require reflects many of the tenants of ALICE. The program is proactive, and instructors teach attendees to do just about anything other than just lockdown.

In addition to the training components, Ellis’ bill — which is now sponsored by the Education Committee and will start in the Senate come the new session — would also look to punish people who drive by stopped school buses. Under the proposal, cameras on buses can be used to identify the registered owners of vehicles that drive by the school buses and fine them $100.

The bill would also make school bus camera footage not part of the public record, shielding them from records request from journalists and the broader public. The Natrona County School District recently rejected a Star-Tribune request for bus footage over a bullying incident.

Ellis told the Star-Tribune that the public record provision was inserted by attorneys for the Legislative Service Office, and she said she needed to study the issue more closely herself. Brian Farmer, the executive director of the Wyoming School Board Association, praised that part of the bill during a public comment period.

The issue appears to be ubiquitous across Wyoming. Natrona County officials briefly discussed it at a recent meeting, as did the Wyoming School Board Association. Education Committee co-chairman Hank Coe, a Cody Republican, said he was supporting the bill based on the school bus issue alone.

Much of the bill regarding security is likely already taking place across Wyoming. But it’s not consistent, Ellis said. She told the Star-Tribune that Laramie County School District No. 1 had a lockdown-centered approach until recently, while Natrona County and many other districts followed ALICE.

Much of the opposition to the bill came from lawmakers concerned it had been introduced too late. Ellis distributed it to her fellow committee members Tuesday, and no copy was made publicly available until that afternoon.

Laramie Democrat Sen. Chris Rothfuss voted against the measure because it had not been fully vetted and reviewed. Legislative staffers noted they hadn’t finished their full review of it yet, either, and Rep. John Freeman — an educator who went through the ALICE with Ellis — said that though he liked the bill, it wasn’t “ready for prime time.”

But Ellis and Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, a Gillette Republican, defended the bill. They noted that school security was one of the committee’s priorities, yet no meaningful safety legislation had been advanced. A bill about barricading devices was killed Tuesday.

“We had a charge to come up with bills, and we didn’t do it, and that bothered me,” Ellis told lawmakers before the vote Wednesday.

“Management council asked us to look into safety and security,” Wasserburger added. “This is the only bill.”


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