Task force subcommittee debates school safety responses

A state committee Monday debated recommending that school officials and law enforcement use common language and uniform responses when dealing with an emergency.

The debate came during a meeting of a school facilities and safety subcommittee, part of Gov. Brad Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” K-12 education task force.

Subcommittee members and Brian Armes, manager of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security, outlined a set of commonly accepted standards. They also considered recommending uniform responses in four areas:

  • Evacuation.
  • Hall check.
  • Reverse evacuation.
  • Lockdown.
Brian Armes

“One of the most basic tenets of safety and security is we all recognize common factors,” Armes said. “Stop signs all look the same and have for years. It’s that simple.”

Cassia County Superintendent James Shank said a common understanding of terms and procedures could help avoid more chaos in a crisis.

“They had five different municipalities serving our district,” Shank said.

The subcommittee’s discussion of crisis wasn’t limited to an active shooter. Members discussed medical emergencies, catastrophic weather, natural disasters, mental health crises and more.

The subcommittee hasn’t fully developed its proposals and will look to finalize them over the next month. And not everyone agreed on how to tackle the subject. Retired Weiser Superintendent Wil Overgaard argued the state should not mandate uniform responses or identical safety standards.

“I don’t think you will get compliance if it’s like anything we get that we bemoan that we’re just doing that for compliance,” Overgaard said. “That drives school officials and board members and teachers crazy.”

In recent weeks, the task force and its subcommittees have ramped things up and begun developing the frameworks for several proposals geared around Little’s focal points: K-3 literacy and college and career readiness.

Potential recommendations include:

  • A new public school accountability system narrowly focused on K-3 literacy, as measured by the Idaho Reading Indicator. The metric used to gauge accountability would be growth in IRI scores, compared to other schools with similar demographics. School boards would then use those metrics to hold district leadership — particularly superintendents — accountable for literacy.
  • Increase state funding for veteran teacher salaries by building out a third rung of the career ladder, to pay out up to $60,000.
  • Offering all-day kindergarten. Under current Idaho law, kindergarten is optional, the state only pays for half-day classes.
  • Putting more money into the Public Education Stabilization Fund, the state’s K-12 savings account, to help soften the blow in the event of a recession. During the most recent budget year ending June 30, the state drew down the savings account by more than $30 million to cover unmet expenses for enrollment increases and advanced opportunities programs, decreasing the balance to about $62 million.

Next up, the full “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” K-12 task force meets Sept. 13 in Pocatello.

The school facilities and safety subcommittee meets again Sept. 25.



Clark Corbin

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