Op-Ed: Protecting Students Must Remain a Top Priority

The weight of yet another senseless, violent act inside a school building has been heavy on my heart and mind this week.  Young elementary school students in Texas came face-to-face with a monster that was able to gain entry into their building and their classroom.  No child should have to experience such fear and violence in their lifetime and certainly not in the safe haven of their school. And no parent should receive the news that such a tragedy has occurred. 

As a father of four children, the pain and anger and grief that I imagine those parents have been experiencing is unfathomable, but I have nonetheless been hurting for them. And I know parents around the country have been as well, and they are rightfully concerned about sending their children to school for the final days of the year.

Of all places, schools need to be given the highest security priority so that a parent knows their child will be safe throughout the day.

That is why I remain committed to providing schools in our Commonwealth – both public and private – with the tools and resources they need to protect the lives of innocent children, teachers, administrators, and other staff.

In 2018 I led the charge on legislation that created a School Safety Committee within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) and a School Safety and Security Grant Program to provide schools the financial resources to hire school police or resource officers and to purchase equipment or make physical changes to their buildings in order to keep their schools safe and secure.

This was a robust legislative initiative, and even though we as a legislature made a huge step forward as it relates to securing our schools, I still feel like it was half of a loaf. I fought hard so that every school would be mandated to reach a certain uniformity of security compliance, but I ran up against local control provisions.  There are currently districts in Pennsylvania that have still not taken a single step towards improving the security of their schools, while others are doing a tremendous job.

A child’s safety in school should not be dependent upon a superintendent’s or school board’s view of the merits of school safety. They should have to meet certain requirements mandated and funded by the state, which have come from the recommendations of credentialed experts in the field.  We cannot play fast and loose with the security of our kids. We should not rely on well-meaning but untrained and unqualified administrators to make these complex decisions regarding safety and security protocols in schools. 

I am personally coming from a certain level of expertise. As a U.S. Marshal, part of my responsibilities was to secure federal buildings.  Also, it’s hard not to notice that when I come to work in the morning at the Capitol, I pass through three levels of security.  When you hold that up against our schools, it is embarrassing that my security has been given a priority over that of our children.

Unfortunately, the issue is not just resistance from local decisionmakers but from our Governor as well.  In the first year, $60 million was made available in grants, but it has been an uphill battle since then with the Governor continuing to propose reductions, including a $15 million cut this year.  As we head into June, which is the time we will finalize a state budget for 2022-2023, ensuring the grant program is funded at the $60 million level, if not more, is a top priority.

But a tragedy should not be a motivator for any of us, nor can we simply grieve and be contemplative for the shelf life of a news story, which is about 30 days. Protecting our children in a place that they are required to go every day and that should not be easily accessible by just anyone, should always be a priority. Otherwise, we allow the cycle to continue, and we will be talking about yet another violent act on school grounds.

A person who intends to do harm will find a way to do harm. It is a challenge to stop a motivated mass-murderer, but we should be doing everything we possibly can to keep such individuals from entering our schools, and it is my view that at this point, we are not.

Senator Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senatorial District covering parts of Cumberland and York Counties.

CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, 717-787-8524

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