Bill proposed to protect students from gun violence in Georgia schools

Intruder alert drills are a new safeguard that could be put into place if a new plan gets the approval of Georgia lawmakers.
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 5:55 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A piece of legislation that overwhelmingly passed in the Georgia House on Monday aims to keep students and teachers safe from violence at school. But critics of the bill say it could exacerbate existing mental health issues.

HB147, known as the Safe Schools Act, would require schools to submit safety plans to the state and hold intruder drills each year. It would also set up a curriculum for educators who want to receive a certification in combatting gang activity and recruitment in schools.

“This is about keeping kids and teachers safe,” said Georgia Rep. Will Wade, (R) – Dawsonville, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I think we’ve considered a very relevant but rational approach to school safety so that everybody can be aware of what to do in a worst-case scenario.”

The bill was a priority for Governor Brian Kemp. If it passes, schools would be required to turn over their safety plans to the state.

“So if there is a serious incident, then they’re not having to read in GEMA from a local deputy, they’re already all going to have that relevant information at hand,” said Rep. Wade. “City police, county police officers, sheriff’s departments are already receiving school safety plans, and this is going to require that they share those same plans, updated with a relevant frequency so that everybody’s singing from the same songbook if you will.”

But some critics say the bill doesn’t go far enough and could expose students to needless anxiety. A study conducted by Georgia Tech researchers showed that active shooter drills were associated with a 42% increase in participant’s stress and anxiety, a 39% increase in depression levels, and a 23% increase in physiological health problems in children from as young as 5, up to high schoolers, teachers and parents.

Rep. Wade said students and staff would be given an opt-out option in cases that require it, such as students with special needs, or kids with histories of violence in the home.

“The bill actually includes specific language that will allow local systems to have opt-outs for kids and staff if there’s an incident that would justify that option,” said Rep. Wade.

But for some opponents of the bill, that option isn’t enough – the legislation’s issues go deeper than practice.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, (D) – Lilburn, spoke out against the bill this week. She said she had talked with her school-aged daughter about active shooter drills and the anxiety they induce in students.

“She said, ‘mom, these drills do not work,’” said Rep. Clark on the House floor Monday. “‘Because if the shooter is another student, they aren’t stupid. They know the school is not empty, they know we’re in there, and also, they’ve done these drills. They know the protocol.’”

For other opponents, it was a distraction from the problem altogether.

“The number one killer of our babies right now: gun violence,” said Rep. Stacey Evans, (D) – Atlanta. “We’re not even going to look at it? How did we let this happen? How did we become so afraid of the debate?”

“We already have laws on the books that prevent people from bringing guns onto school grounds,” replied Rep. Wade, when asked by Atlanta News First on Tuesday. “Criminals don’t follow laws.”

A far less controversial element of HB147 has proven to be the anti-gang curriculum. All education professionals, from grade school to college educators, would be able to complete an anti-gang training course and receive an endorsement that would allow them to serve as a de-facto expert in gang deterrence.

“Gangs actually recruit in elementary school and I learned that through my experience with my own family,” said Tekesia Shields, founder of Mothers Against Gang Violence, a group she founded seven years ago.

Her son was recruited into a gang as a teenager and is currently serving a 20-year sentence. Shields fully supports more training for educators on the topic of gang-recruitment.

“Our youth are impacted by what they don’t know and what they don’t understand, and it enters their thoughts and once they get affiliated, they do not know how far they have been impacted by the unknown,” she said.

“So we have to learn how to provide those pieces of training from elementary, high, middle, and home,” she added.