HARRISBURG (March 2, 2018) – State Senator Andrew Dinniman and members of the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on school and student safety this morning.
“While we may focus in on the issue of gun control or mental health, we must understand that there is a larger, societal issue. For too long, we’ve discussed it in silos and sniped at each other from across political lines. But the real answer will be multifaceted and will include a combination of solutions,” said Dinniman, who serves as the committee’s minority chairman.
The committee heard testimony from:
- State Senator Mike Regan
Former United States Marshal
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
- Major Douglas Burig
Director of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation
Pennsylvania State Police
- Matthew Stem
Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
- Dr. Sarah Daly
Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law and Society
Saint Vincent College
- Dr. Mark DiRocco
Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators
- James E. Hyslop
President and CEO
Standing Stone Consulting, Inc.
State Senator Mike Regan, a former U.S. Marshal and Deputy Inspector General, presented detailed testimony calling for a Comprehensive School Safety Plan that includes thorough assessment, customized planning, and professional training.
“It is my strongly held conviction that finite school safety resources should not be allocated without a professionally-conducted preliminary needs assessment. Without an objective evaluation of a school’s assets and unique needs, the potential exists for taxpayer dollars to be mismanaged,” he said.
Regan also pointed out in that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 2017-18 Education was dedicated to the Safe School Initiative line item.
Major Burig discussed the Pennsylvania State Police’s Risk Vulnerability Assessment Team (RVAT), which is specially trained and certified to provide on-site security assessments. Since January 2016, the state police have conducted 147 RVAT assessments, most of which were at schools.
Major Burig agreed with Dinniman’s suggestion that security design features and criteria should be included in PlanCon, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s system for funding school-building projects.
Major Burig also testified that there is no state or local mandate for schools to follow the PSP’s RVAT recommendations.
“Safety has to be the top order when we’re designing and building new schools,” Dinniman said. “In order for students to learn and to grow, safety must be a top priority in schools and we need to make it a top priority in building them, too.”
Matthew Stem, Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education testified that the department makes available $6.5 million in Safe Schools Grants, which go to school resource officers, as well as equipment and programs.
Dinniman requested that the Department of Education review its funding to see if there are other areas where resources can be economized or diverted to increase funding for the Safe School Grants.
Dr. Mark DiRocco, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School administrators, discussed the importance of student involvement in reporting potential safety threats.
Dinniman said it was crucial to listen to students and actively engage young people not only on the question of school and student safety but also on a whole host of topics involving education.
“Unfortunately, too many of us have come to see this type of violence as the ‘new normal,’ and we can’t anymore,” Dinniman said. “Some of the leadership and activism that is coming out of the next generation is inspiring. Young people are working to change the culture of violence in our society. They recognize that government is not solving this problem and they’re stepping into the breach. I think we need to involve and listen to our students because their voice is key in solving this problem.”