DES MOINES — Two years after signing a law requiring each of Iowa’s 327 school districts to submit safety plans and undergo training drills, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she would form a state government bureau to focus on helping schools protect students and staff from threats like school shootings.
Iowa schools have developed safety plans for each building as well as training programs to prevent and respond to threats of violence under the 2018 requirement, which was passed in the wake of several school shootings including a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.
But Reynolds told her weekly news conference she wants legislators to provide $2 million to add special agents who can work with local law enforcement, school administrators and others to better communicate and coordinate on preventive measures focused on training, reporting and investigation.
“This is the next logical step to take,” said Reynolds in announcing the creation of the Iowa Governor’s School Safety Bureau in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Iowa Department of Education.
“News headlines about school shootings and threats at unsuspecting communities across America are becoming all too common,” she noted. “And although those headlines don’t often involve schools in Iowa, we can’t wait until they do to act.”
Reynolds has proposed hiring two staff members who can train teachers, school administrators and local law enforcement as well as considering apps and other tools that students could use to anonymously report concerns and any threatening behavior they see.
She said the cost of her proposal would be about $2 million in the first year, then carry an ongoing cost of about $1.5 million annually — an expense she hoped legislators would embrace this session.
Stephan Bayens, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the goal would be to offer presentation “so we do not have someone that blossoms into a school shooter.”
Officials said K-12 school safety is critical to producing learners who can thrive if they first feel protected regardless of the size or location of the schools they attend.
“We live in a time where we can no longer simply assume that our schools remain kind of the safe havens of our children,” said Bayens. “Unfortunately those times have changed and we must change with them.”
Public safety officials have seen an interest in and need from first responders and Iowa schools to provide consistent training for rapid responses to school intruders, exposure to weapons, bullying and other threats, Bayens said. The new bureau would include a full-time core set of instructors dedicated to providing school safety training throughout the state upon request for nearly 500,000 students and over 35,000 faculty and staff members, as well as first responders.
The Public Safety commissioner said early behavior reporting also is the cornerstone of a safe-school environment but unfortunately, students frequently fail to report concerning behaviors because they fear being bullied or accused of betraying a friend’s trust. However, in more than 80 percent of school shootings, he noted, at least one other person had advance knowledge of what was to occur.
To encourage reporting, Bayens said, the bureau proposes implementing a tool — possibly a tip line, a web-based application or app for smartphones — that makes sharing concerns easy and anonymous.
Bayens said almost every school safety threat includes a digital component — with threats often communicated through social media, gaming platforms or messaging apps.
He said the addition of special agents who are cyber experts will allow the bureau to assist local law enforcement in pursuing the digital leads necessary to stop the concerning behaviors.
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