Senator Chuck Wiger: Keeping Everyone Safe at School

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Making sure children, teachers, staff and volunteers are safe at school is, and always has been, my top priority as a legislator.

In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Florida, a new generation of students is rising, asserting a right to safety.

About 250 White Bear Lake Area high school and middle school students demonstrated against gun violence outside White Bear Lake City Hall on Feb. 23.

Hundreds of students marched from St. Paul Central High School to the Capitol on March 7 to support school safety. That same day, Governor Mark Dayton held a press conference to explain his proposal for enhanced security at schools all over the state. A junior from St. Louis Park High School spoke at the event and said she is “beyond frustrated. Beyond heartbroken…We shouldn’t have to keep fighting for our lives.”

I applaud the efforts of these articulate students and want to do all I can to support their efforts. I am pleased that there is bipartisan support for turning good ideas into action.

Rep. Peter Fischer and I recently visited an area school, and during that time, the school had a school lockdown drill. Watching the students and staff promptly responding according to the school’s plan was a heartfelt, chilling reminder that we must step up our efforts to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

In the Minnesota Senate, and particularly in the E-12 Finance Committee, we are having a wide-ranging discussion about how best to protect our schools. We are introducing a number of bills that will enhance student safety. Measures will be introduced to help schools improve their facilities and also add mental health services.

I am the chief author of SF 2507, which would allow school boards to use the safe school levy for an expanded number of uses, including cybersecurity.

My bill aligns with what Gov. Dayton is proposing. His Safe and Secure Schools Act would provide schools with $15.9 million in additional needed revenue from a supplemental budget. It would also provide $5 million in school-based grants for mental health services.

Like the governor, I believe we need more resources for school safety improvements.

When I reached out to stakeholders in my district, I received a number of ideas from them, including:

  • Staff schools with additional counselors and psychologists
  • Contract statewide with community mental health providers
  • Increase state funding for school safety cameras
  • Increase the safe schools levy
  • Implement a school facilities revenue program for more secure schools
  • Expand anti-bullying programs

Emergency concepts used by fire and police departments have become party of schools’ emergency planning. I want to make sure that these plans are published on school websites for parents to view.

Many districts also have “tip lines” that allow anyone to anonymously report a perceived threat. Those phone numbers are published on the district websites.

The Minnesota School Safety Center, over the years, has provided best-practice recommendations for crisis teams, lockdown protocols, security technology, suspected threats and programs to improve school culture.

Design professionals now use a federally recommend process called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Design teams evaluate the relocation of offices, improved sight lines, bulletproof glass, security cameras, lighting, lobby protection, and traffic patterns.

Building a positive school climate is of the utmost importance. Establishing trust and respect among students and staff can prevent violence.

It is unfortunate that we have to spend school money on security. But that is the world we live in.

As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. You can visit me at the Capitol in my office in the Senate Building, Room 2219. Or, you can let me know if you would like me to stop by your home or apartment. I can be reached by email at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn and by phone at 651-296-6820. My cell is 651-770-0283.

This column was first published in the Lillie News.

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