Officials ponder varying ideas, plans
“There is no greater assurance that our schools can provide to parents than ensuring their children’s safety. The Sandy Hook tragedy reminded us all that we must make safety our number one priority, and I’m pleased that the legislature enhanced Louisiana’s school safety laws to make them even stronger.” State Superintendent of Education John White
The new school year started in Louisiana with a heightened focus on safety after a deadly shooting at a Connecticut school.
Shock at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead last year sparked a suggestion that Louisiana schoolteachers carry loaded guns.
Legislators quickly dropped that idea in favor of less drastic measures.
Within the first 30 days, principals now must conduct a safety drill to test plans aimed at saving the lives of students and school employees.
The plans — the result of collaboration with law enforcement — call for classroom doors to be locked while school is in session and for teachers to undergo in-service training on safety procedures.
State Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, sponsored the legislation earlier this year that created the changes.
“I didn’t want to tell school boards to do something that costs money. I said, ‘Get together with local law enforcement and come up with a plan,’ ” he said.
The Connecticut school shooting spurred several reviews of Louisiana’s campus safety.
Adam Lanza allegedly shot and killed his mother before driving to the Sandy Hook school and opening fire.
Lanza got into the school by shooting open a locked door. He entered classrooms and shot students who tried to hide from him. He took his own life when law enforcement reached the school.
At the time of the shootings, public school principals in Louisiana already were required by law to prepare crisis management and response plans that detailed security measures for violent incidents or emergencies.
The Louisiana House Select Committee on Homeland Security met in January to look for possible flaws in the state’s school safety plans. Gov. Bobby Jindal also formed a study committee to identify needed improvements at schools and colleges.
Hensgens’ legislation — which the governor signed into law as Act No. 50 — stemmed from suggestions made by an Erath high school principal that schools needed to work jointly with law enforcement on preparing for the unthinkable.
School principals now must work with law enforcement in drawing up the crisis management and response plans. Before, principals just needed to consider input from law enforcement.
“It almost localizes the school safety program,” Hensgens said.
State Superintendent of Education John White expressed satisfaction with the new collaboration.
“There is no greater assurance that our schools can provide to parents than ensuring their children’s safety. The Sandy Hook tragedy reminded us all that we must make safety our number one priority, and I’m pleased that the legislature enhanced Louisiana’s school safety laws to make them even stronger,” White said in a prepared statement.
The Louisiana House Select Committee on Homeland Security met for several hours early in the year to look at policies at the state’s nearly 1,800 public and nonpublic schools. Committee members vowed to meet as often as necessary.
Jindal’s task force created a campus safety planning guide that will be put online, developed a 127-point safety checklist for schools, held drills, gathered school floor plans and built a database of contact information.
“I personally went to probably about a dozen schools between the spring and summer, and I was pretty pleased with what I saw,” State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said.
Edmonson helped chair the task force, which expanded its scope beyond possible incidents at schools.
This week, law enforcement pretended there was a shooter in Kenner’s Esplanade Mall, requiring an evacuation. Next week, a shooter exercise will be held at Lake Bistineau State Park in Doyline.
“We made this not just about education,” Edmonson said. “We’re really looking at the big picture.”