JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi House members agreed Wednesday that public schools should undergo twice-yearly active shooter drills, approving a bill meant to make schools safer from mass shootings and turning aside concerns that such drills could terrorize the students they’re meant to protect.
The House voted 114-3 on for House Bill 1283 , sending it to the Senate for more consideration. It would require safety inspections and the active shooter drills at public schools. It would also create a threat-reporting mechanism monitored by three dedicated analysts at the state Department of Public Safety.
“The threat is real and it’s one we have to prepare for,” said Rep. Mark Baker, the Brandon Republican who sponsored the bill.
A task force convened by Gov. Phil Bryant recommended that every school have a school resource officer — typically an armed law enforcement officer. Baker said he wants to expand a cost-sharing program to encourage that goal, saying the bill would require the state to provide at least $10,000 to every district that qualified.
The legislation doesn’t include a task force recommendation to train teachers or other school personnel to carry guns and act as “school marshals.”
Most debate Wednesday centered on the requirement for the active shooter drills. Republican Rep. Joel Bomgar of Madison unsuccessfully tried to allow districts to decide whether students should participate.
“To force all of the children to go through an active shooter drill that will leave them somewhat terrorized is a decision that ought to be made at a lower level,” Bomgar said.
Representatives rejected that move, as well as a proposed amendment by Republican Rep. Dana Criswell of Olive Branch that would have allowed parents to pull individual students out of drills.
“Children should know where to hide along a wall, where bullets can’t penetrate, how to save and protect each other,” said Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville.
The highest-dollar recommendation in the bill is to hire a school resource officer for all 1,000-plus schools in the state. The state Department of Education says there are now 410 certified officers statewide.
In December, the state Board of Education approved $10,000 grants for 177 officers, totaling $1.77 million in the program, called Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools. School districts must match the funds, but in reality, Welch said it costs about $50,000 in salary and benefits to hire a school resource officer.
The state set aside $5 million for the program in 2013-2014, when it was created after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But officials only disbursed about $2.2 million that year, in part because some districts said their officers didn’t fulfill all functions required in the program.
The bill also seeks to teach students how to manage stress and anxiety and to train teachers to recognize developing behavioral problems. The House accepted an amendment to expand overall education about mental health and mental illness as well.
House and Senate members are also considering bills that criminalize violent threats via social media or other means.