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1.13.23 – The Ada News – Oklahoma City

A proposed Oklahoma law would require every public school building to undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment within the next three years in an effort to harden them against active shooters.

Senate Bill 100 proposes that every school in the state undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment conducted by the Oklahoma School Security Institute by July 1, 2026. After the initial assessment, districts must coordinate with the Institute, which is a division of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security, to conduct re-assessments every five years.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 101, would appropriate $20 million from the state’s general revenue fund to create a grant program to help school districts and colleges and universities pay for needed security upgrades identified during the assessments.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, who authored the legislation, said he was asked by the Senate president to chair a working group to develop legislation to “harden some of our schools or make it safer for kids.” He said the request followed last year’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and one at a hospital in Tulsa.

The Uvalde shooting killed 19 children and two teachers. During the shooting at Tulsa’s Saint Francis Health System, a man entered armed with a semiautomatic rifle he had purchased the same day and killed two doctors, a receptionist and a patient.

Pemberton said the working group spoke with School Safety Institute officials, and learned that Oklahoma has a grant program that’s never been funded designed to help districts pay for needed security upgrades.

“We all agree that there needs to be funding put into that grant program,” Pemberton said.

The group also discovered that the School Safety Institute, which is already doing some site vulnerability assessments, is understaffed. The Institute’s staff of eight has only assessed about 100 school buildings across Oklahoma in the past decade. Each assessment takes about a week to complete.

Pemberton said there are likely over 2,000 school buildings statewide.

He said the Institute should be given the staffing and resources needed, which will cost an additional $1.5 million.

“I’ve seen some of their assessment techniques that they use and some of their reports, and they are very detailed on the physical structure on doorways, entrances, technology, everything,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton said 20 years ago, there was a fear of doing anything that overtly looked like a school district was trying to harden itself because the community might think a school was unsafe. Today, if school districts don’t do anything to harden themselves, people have the same concern.

“This is something important to everybody,” Pemberton said. “And I think it’s something we need to take seriously. I hope we get the appropriation, and we move this thing forward. We’ll all feel better everyday knowing that we’re doing everything we can to keep our kids safe.”

Katherine Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said the measures are an example of a bill that is “the right step forward” in that it helps schools by identifying risks and vulnerability and then helps provide the funding to make needed improvements.

Bishop also said it’s likely some schools across Oklahoma would benefit from security upgrades, but would not be able to afford them otherwise.

“Our kids are our greatest commodity, and we need to keep them safe and our employees, and so to do that in a mindful manner is so positive,” Bishop said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.