By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona’s schools’ chief is laser focused on protecting children in their places of education.
On Wednesday, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced that he had “convened the first School Safety Task Force with a focus on getting more armed officers in schools in concert with social workers to protect (the state’s) schoolchildren, educators, and staff.”
After the meeting, Horne released a statement, saying, “Protecting the lives of our children is one of the most important issues we face. We hope that the School Safety Task Force will work to increase the number of law enforcement officers and social workers in schools as well as using our role in Career and Technical Education to encourage more people to consider law enforcement as a profession. I am grateful for all of the educators, law enforcement professionals, community leaders and both Democrat and Republican elected officials who have come together in this vital, bipartisan effort.”
Freshman Republican Representative Matthew Gress, one of the participants in the meeting, added his thoughts on Twitter, writing, “As parents send their children to school, they have every right to expect they will come home safely. With experience as a former schoolteacher and school board member, I look forward to this opportunity to productively contribute to this very important conversation.”
Gress announced earlier this week that he had “accepted an invitation from Horne to serve on the Task Force recently established by the Arizona Department of Education. He noted that he had “particular interest in identifying how public schools can use available one-time funding to improve the capital facilities on campuses to improve school safety” and in “focusing attention on law enforcement response times to schools and bolstering the School Resource Officer program.”
The Arizona Department of Education highlighted that “in the meeting, department staff reported that funding for School Resource Officers (SROs) has been utilized to expand the number of SROs from 190 in the previous administration to 301 currently.” Additionally, the Department forecasted that “the group will explore ways to integrate counselors and social workers into an effective School Safety Program, expand the definition of an SRO in accordance with state certification requirements so the applicant pool can be enlarged; and consider allowing schools to hire School Safety Officers (SSOs), review training models, and review Law Related Education.”
In May, Superintendent Horne’s school safety recommendations were approved by the Arizona State Board of Education, giving the Department of Education approximately $100 million from a combination of federal and state grants. Horne said at the time, “I have been asking the schools to prioritize school resource officers. The nightmare is that a maniac gets into a school, kills 20 children, and the parents find out that the school could have had a school resource officer to defend the students, but the school did not do so. Imagine how the parents would feel about those decision makers?”
Horne isn’t the only elected official in Arizona concentrating on bolstering safety in schools across the state. Last month, Peoria Mayor Jason Beck announced that, in keeping his promises to his constituents, there would be a police presence at all Peoria Unified School District schools during the 2023-2024 year. Beck highlighted that there would be four new SLO’s (School Liaison Officers) and rotating SLO’s at every school; that this presence would be expanded to all elementary schools; that there would be 22 Peoria schools with police coverage and an increase in SLO salary.
The mayor said, “It’s the fact that we are trying to take care of our kids. Our first priority as a city is to take care of the residents. Safety and wellbeing is our first priority.”
Earlier this year, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the Arizona Department of Education released the findings of a poll, which found that “81% of Arizona Public School parents support having a police officer” and “78% of Arizona Public School parents think that safety at schools is VERY IMPORTANT.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.