By Claire Sullivan, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—High schoolers often worry about prom and exams. But a growing number fear being shot in school, students testified at the Capitol.
A bill aiming to address those concerns, called the School Safety Act of 2023, advanced Monday through the Senate Committee on Finance.
The proposal would establish the Center for Safe Schools within the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. It would provide panic emergency notification and anonymous reporting systems for schools.
The bill also would require schools to hold shooting drills during high traffic or passing times in the hallways, have blood control kits and training to use them in school and create district threat assessment teams.
Sen. Barry S. Milligan, R-Shreveport, brought the legislation after consulting with the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, made up of high school students from around the state who engage with the legislative process.
The proposal addresses a growing American problem and fears felt by students nationwide.
There have been more than 380 school shootings in the United States since 1999, with 88 in the last two years alone, according to The Washington Post. The violence has left at least 199 dead and another 428 injured.
The Post found that the violence has been rising significantly since 2018, with an exception during school closings in 2020.
“This country has truly become numb to school shootings,” said Clayton Baden, a senior at Buckeye High School in Rapides Parish and a member of the youth council.
For these students, school shootings have been a lifelong worry. They feel this legislation could help assuage those fears.
“It is our solution to add extra protection to keep our schools safe and more prepared to truly keep our youth safe at school, where they shouldn’t have to think of problems as horrible as school shootings,” Baden said.
Daniel Price, a senior at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge and a youth council member, said he did not feel safe with the current system in place for shooting drills. He said teachers are often in the dark during drills, not knowing the severity of the situation and unable to calm student fears.
“Due to the lack of practice in school drills and miscommunication with teachers and students, students are not confident in the school’s ability to counter active school threats,” Price said. “And this has left me, and this has left the entire school community, in the mindset of helping themselves and no one else.”
Crimestoppers of Great New Orleans, which has an app that allows students to make safety reports, has received more than 1,200 tips since its contract with the state first began in 2020, according to its president and CEO Darlene Cusanza.
Crimestoppers is in 500 schools across 40 parishes, with another 122 schools in the onboarding process, Cusanza said, adding that she hopes its reach can grow if this bill makes its way through the Legislature.
And those hundreds of tips have already had an effect, Cusanza said.
The night before she spoke in front of the Senate Committee on Education last week, Crimestoppers helped solve a planned school shooting, from which an arrest was made, she said. Other arrests regarding abuse, weapons and drugs have been made from the tips, she said.
Students hope expanded preparedness and resources will allow them to focus on school.
“Only when students feel truly safe in their schools are they able to learn and grow,” said Holly Phan, a junior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School and a youth council member. “Unnecessary uncertainty about what to do when an active shooter comes on campus is not a burden that should fall on these children.”