Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2019

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Sandoval, school superintendents agree to create school safety group

Nevada is creating a new advisory group on school safety following a shooting last month at a Florida high school that killed 17.

Gov. Brian Sandoval convened superintendents from 15 out of 17 counties on Monday, with the group agreeing unanimously that the state should create a school safety committee. Sandoval said he will sign an executive order creating the group to advise the governor’s office and the 2019 Legislature on campus safety.

A draft of the executive order could be done by the end of this week. The governor said he wants the group to hold at least one meeting before the new school year begins in the fall. Members will include a superintendent from a rural district, one from an urban county, educators, families and behavioral health experts, among others.

Sandoval said the group discussed challenges in accessing funding for social workers — something the governor said he’d look at in the budget process — as well as school resource officers, and resources for training students and staff.

One area of consensus among the superintendents was the need for behavioral health experts, Sandoval said, noting that providing telehealth resources could help improve access in rural areas.

“Make that money more accessible so we can get more of the behavioral health experts in the schools because we want to get in front of this issue as much we can,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval said school safety has to be even more of a priority now given the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip and other mass killings nationwide in recent years. He said he’ll explore possible grants and federal dollars that may be available for school safety.

“We’re not going to solve all of this in two hours in one day, but this is the beginning to a conversation that will lead into the next session of the Legislature,” he said.

Clark County School Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky after the meeting said the state may have to supply more money for school safety, secure school facilities and mental health programs. He said it’s important to make sure students do not feel isolated.

The governor has already committed to including more than $6 million in the upcoming budget and indicated he may favor creating a fund for school districts to use for student protection. But it will be up to the next governor to make recommendations to the 2019 Legislature.

Skorkowsky, who leaves his job June 29, was asked if a tax increase might be needed to make these changes. He replied it could be needed if it keeps the students feeling safe and the parents feeling secure in sending their children to class.

Superintendents at the meeting ranged from the state’s smallest district, Esmeralda County with 84 students, to Clark County, the biggest in the state and one of the largest in the country with roughly 324,000 students. Sandoval said there was no one answer that will fit all the districts because some are rural and some are urban.

“I don’t know that there’s another state with the diversity of students that we’ve got here in terms of the remoteness of some of our school districts versus our urban school districts,” Sandoval said. “There is no one size fits all for all of us, and that’s the point of this, is for us to come together to see if there are some commonalities amongst the school districts in terms of things that can be done.”

Sandoval said the forum was likely the first of its kind in the state. Superintendents meet monthly to discuss topics including school safety.

The meeting comes after a school safety discussion at the White House between President Donald Trump and dozens of members of the National Governors Association. Superintendents met in Carson City the same day Trump released his priorities for school safety, which included helping to create programs for training armed school personnel.

“These are all issues that we touched one way or the other today, some supportive, some not,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval said state law allows principals or superintendents to decide whether to arm a teacher. He said as a matter of safety, he wouldn’t name the schools that allow the practice.

“There is a difference of opinion there, although I will say the consensus was that most of the school districts choose not to do that,” he said.

Trump’s school safety priorities also include strengthening the national background check system, and encouraging states to allow law enforcement to get court approval to remove weapons from those who are a threat.

The governor is currently being sued along with Attorney General Adam Laxalt over the state’s failed gun background check law. Sandoval said that he’s signed legislation ensuring that anyone who is mentally ill or has a domestic violence restraining order against them cannot purchase a firearm, and private parties can obtain a background check at no expense through a licensed gun dealer.