Northwest NEWS

May 10, 1999

Local News

Governor signs school safety bills

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   OLYMPIA--Governor Gary Locke signed into law two school safety bills on May 5. Legislators had been working on the bills since January.

   State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, sponsored both bills. The first bill requires a mandatory 72-hour detention and mental health evaluation for any young person who brings a gun onto school grounds.

   McAuliffe said officials need the 72-hour period to assess a child's mental health and determine appropriate action. Evaluation results, including drug and alcohol screening, could be shared with the child's parents, if warranted.

   The bill was inspired by last year's Springfield, Oregon school shooting. That incident involved a student suspended for bringing a gun to school. He brought the gun back to school the next day, allegedly killing two people and injuring several others.

   "I wanted to make sure that what might be a bad prank doesn't later turn into a violent disaster," said McAuliffe. "By bringing a gun to school, that child is sending a loud message that something is wrong. We've got to listen to that message and get the child help."

   The second school safety bill requires a fingerprint background check for prospective employees of private schools who will have unsupervised access to children. The employees would pay for the background check cost.

   "This is the same law that applies to public school employees," said McAuliffe. "Parents of students at private schools deserve the same degree of confidence that the people to whom they are trusting the care of their children are well-qualified and don't pose a danger to them."

   Creating safer schools was a key component of Senate Democrats' education agenda for the 1999 legislative session, said McAuliffe.

   The final two-year budget passed by the Legislature includes funding for schools to develop safety plans that cover not only what actions to take during natural disasters, but also during acts of violence. Also awaiting signature by the Governor is a bill to strengthen truancy provisions to keep children in school.

   McAuliffe said her work on school safety is not done. Before the legislature meets again next January, McAuliffe said she plans to talk with more students, educators, and community members about additional ways to prevent school violence.

   "Each time something like the school shootings in Colorado occur, we are reminded that we need to do more for our students. Children can't learn if they are in fear, and no child should be made to feel unsafe in school," McAuliffe said.