Legislators Receive School Safety Bill Update

State School Safety Marshal Ben Wilcox testified before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday to update lawmakers on implementation of Senate Bill 1, The School Safety and Resiliency Act. The KLC initiative passed in 2019.

“I feel that schools are safer now than they were two years ago, and it has to do with the amount of work that has been put in by our office but most of all by the school staff and the workers at schools across our state,” Wilcox told the committee.

He explained that his office has divided Kentucky into 16 regions covered by 12 regional compliance officers. While those officers are responsible for making sure schools comply with safety rules, Wilcox insisted that the relationships between the officers and school officials have made the task run smoothly.

Of the 1,280 schools in the commonwealth, 744 have completed their third annual assessment with the final 536 expected by the end of April.

Wilcox described difficulties completing initial assessments in the spring of 2020 after COVID-19 lockdowns forced schools to close. He said those restrictions delayed efforts by about six weeks; however, he noted that the completed assessments helped to both bring schools into compliance and build relationships.

He reported that 95% to 98% of schools assessed during this school year are compliant.

“Schools are in a good spot,” he told the committee. “Looking at our report, going back into our assessments, we’re not finding big issues. We’re finding issues that can be fixed very easily, and we will be back to see it to do another compliance check.”

His office has collaborated with the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) to train school resources officers (SROs). Wilcox said the training lasts 120 hours and includes mental health training for a trauma-informed approach to handling student needs.

When asked whether schools are hesitant to have an SRO in the building, Wilcox answered, “Now that everyone is talking and everyone realizes what they are there for, it is really working out, and we don’t see a lot of folks who don’t want to have SROs in their building across the state because it is working out very well for them.”

There are SROs in 416 of 1,084 Kentucky school campuses. Those SROs, he explained, work directly with mental health professional in the schools.

The legislation also requires a 1-to-250 mental health professional to student ratio in schools. Wilcox reported that only 42% of schools meet that standard. The state averages one mental health professional for every 328 students.

Members of the committee expressed a need for continued funding for The School Safety and Resiliency Act. When asked how much it would cost to fully implement the plan, Wilcox said he was unsure. He could offer totals and percentages of needed employees but could not put a dollar amount on the cost of those positions.