By: Patrick Flannery
Representative, State of Kentucky
With summer winding down, families across the commonwealth are preparing for school. Whether you are back-to-school shopping, picking up supplies, or otherwise getting ready for a productive school year, parents and other guardians across Kentucky are sharing similar experiences getting ready for this important time in your child’s life.
While it is an exciting time for everyone to see the familiar faces of friends, teachers, and school employees, it is also important that we take steps to keep our schools safe.
Frankly, school safety starts before students even enter the school. Each day Kentucky’s school buses transport over 350,000 students to school, so we must ensure that not only are we making sure students get on the bus safely but that other drivers are obeying traffic rules. Also, many are walking to school, while others rely on parents for transportation, so it is important to be alert and careful while driving in the mornings and afternoons. In other words, let’s pay attention and “share the road” with school buses, walkers, and car riders.
Student behavior plays a major role in school safety. Lawmakers have heard from educators that behavioral issues are one of the leading reasons that teachers and aides are leaving the classroom. As a parent or guardian, it is our responsibility to make sure our children not only know how to behave, but understand they are expected to do so. In fact, we passed legislation earlier this year that provides school districts with more authority to deal with behavioral issues to help protect other students and make sure all students have an opportunity to learn.
Community also plays a major role in school safety. It is important as parents that we are involved in our students’ education and learning. Not everyone can volunteer, but getting to know your children’s new teachers and staff can help your children feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom. Take the time to send a message and attend conferences and meetings. When students see parents taking their education seriously, they feel part of something and a responsibility to others.
Without a doubt, we have seen terribly tragic school violence here in our commonwealth and across the nation. As a result of efforts that began in 2018, we have taken steps to strengthen school safety by making our schools more secure and our students more resilient. However, we know there is far more work to be done. This interim the School and Campus Safety Task Force is working to identify areas that need improvement. We know the importance of school resource officers (SRO). SROs can prevent and respond to school-based crime, help create a positive relationship between schools, students, and local law enforcement, and help to promote a positive and safe school environment. Not only do SROs help promote safety in schools, but they can be a resource to both counsel and mentor students. During the 2022 Session we passed HB 63 which requires an SRO in every public school across the commonwealth, and during the 2023 session, we passed HB 540 which allows private and parochial schools to contract with law enforcement so the option is available to them as well.
As students in our community begin the school year, I wish them the best. I hope their journey is filled with curiosity and growth and that they make friends and learn to collaborate with others as they walk the hallways of their new adventure.
As always, I can be reached anytime through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Patrick.Flannery@lrc.ky.gov. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky legislature’s home page at legislature.ky.gov.