OLYMPIA — A new law enacted Thursday aims to improve public school leaders’ ability to assess the potential threat of violence by one of their students.
The legislation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee requires every district in Washington to have a threat assessment program in place for each campus by the start of the 2020 school year. And it ensures there will be training and support services provided to districts that need it.
The signing of House Bill 1216 came two days after two high school students shot and killed a classmate and injured eight others at a charter school in Colorado. It was the 25th shooting on a public school or college campus this year, according to reports compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, which works to pass gun safety legislation across the country.
“My biggest prayer is that this bill will really make our schools safer for all of our kids and maybe save some kids lives,” said Rep. Laurie Dolan, D-Olympia, the prime sponsor. “For the first time we will have capacity to provide trained staff to work closely with school leaders and students to keep them safe.”
The law emerged from months of conversation among representatives of law enforcement, public schools, colleges, mental health professionals, victim organizations and the ACLU on how to better identify and assist students at risk of harming themselves or others.
Expanding the use of threat assessments emerged as one of the top recommendations to help educators look for signs, the timely discovery of which could prevent deadly shootings like those at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2014, in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018 and in Colorado this week.
Under the law, the Washington State School Directors’ Association and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will develop a model policy for use by districts that are not doing such assessments now. Each of the state’s nine educational service districts (ESD) will receive funding to provide training to personnel.
“We all think it will be a positive step forward,” said Larry Francois, superintendent of Educational Service District 189, which covers districts in Snohomish, Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Another piece of the law deals with school resource officers. It does not require districts employ them. If they do, those school resource officers are required to receive training in a dozen specific areas including civil rights of students, mental health of adolescents, de-escalation techniques, and alternatives to arrest and prosecution.
Also, the law creates a statewide school safety center to be housed in OSPI. It will serve as a clearinghouse for information regarding school safety. The ESDs will set up separate regional safety centers to provide technical assistance, training as well as resources for mental and behavioral health services.
”The intent of the legislation is to build a foundation of support for our schools and our communities,” said Martin Mueller, assistant superintendent for student engagement and support in OSPI. “It was not fully funded, however, so our focus moving forward will be on implementing what was funded and obtaining additional funding to provide more support and resources for schools.”
Marysville School District, which has school resource officers and employs a threat assessment program, supports the law as long as there are resources in place to cover costs of any new requirements, said Greg Dennis, the district’s student safety and security director.
“We feel it will bring a proactive, preventative approach rather than a reactive approach,” he said.