Gov. Charlie Baker and Massachusetts education officials on Thursday announced plans to file a nearly $40 million proposal in order to significantly invest in school safety initiatives that are intended to help make schools safer and more secure across the state.
Baker spoke at 10:30 a.m. at the State House to provide the update on his administration's efforts to keep students and staff members safe with the new school year upon us. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Riley, and other officials to discuss the administration’s initiatives to support school safety in communities across the Commonwealth.
"It’s obviously no secret that the last two years have been enormously difficult for children and parents and teachers and school staff. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already significant mental and behavioral health challenges for many of our kids who are in need of additional supports and services, and now we know those challenges have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and a series of very publicized public tragedies that have taken place around the country," Baker said.
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"It’s also no secret that over the course of the last several years, school classrooms and schools in particular instances have become targets of gun violence. While we’re certainly proud of the work that’s been done in Massachusetts to extend and enhance our very strong gun laws which serve as a model we believe for the rest of the country and we’re deeply grateful that we haven’t experienced any of the devastation in the Commonwealth that’s been seen elsewhere, we know that there’s more we can and should do to keep kids safe."
Baker said his administration has worked diligently to develop and implement a variety of comprehensive emergency response training and planning programs for state agencies, local departments, school districts and communities.
"It’s key for us to prepare and respond and recover should god forbid the unthinkable happen in the Commonwealth," he said, noting his administration's goal has been to make sure schools and communities have the tools and resources that are necessary to spot signs of trouble before there is trouble.
According to Baker, highlights of the proposal include matching grants for security and communication upgrades in K-12 schools in public higher education institutions, grant funding for child care providers to support safety measures and multi hazard emergency planning, grant funding to support districts pilot an anonymous tip line to report potential threats, funding for a statewide 'Say Something' public awareness campaign and corresponding training to go along with it, support for ongoing emergency response training for school officials and the creation of a comprehensive school safety website.
"It is incumbent upon us to do all that we can to provide safe classrooms in schools for our children to learn, grow and succeed in and for adults to feel comfortable in," Baker said, adding that he encourages anyone with specific questions about their child’s school preparedness to contact their local school and public safety officials to learn more.
Baker stressed the importance of being prepared, and knowing what resources are available as school starts up again.
"No child should fear going to school in the morning, or feel uncertainty over how safe their building or classroom is," the governor said. "The initiatives we’re announcing today will certainly help support that mission."
During the press conference Thursday, officials also highlighted the Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, an internationally recognized standard that Massachusetts adopted to promote a statewide model. Baker's office said ASHER is designed to protect communities and help them prepare, respond and recover from crisis events.
The program's framework has already been implemented in state-run police and fire training academies, and parallel training is being finalized for current state police and fire personnel, according to the press release.
The governor said he's unsure of the exact day the legislation will be filed but noted it will be soon.
"We look forward to sharing more details about the proposal shortly, working with our colleagues in the legislature to get it done, and then putting the dollars to work in the field across the Commonwealth," Baker added.
“Children, teachers and staff deserve to feel safe in the classroom, and our administration’s funding proposal will invest in the resources and programming required to equip school communities and emergency personnel with the tools they need to keep schools safe,” the lieutenant governor shared in a statement.
In 2018, Baker signed a supplemental budget with $15 million for school safety initiatives. As part of the Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative, the Baker-Polito Administration to date has awarded $15 million in grant funding, including $7.5 million awarded to more than 150 districts statewide to invest in security-related infrastructure upgrades and $7.5 million in grant funding to increase mental health support and to support schools’ hiring of additional mental health and behavioral health specialists.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in a statement that the investment proposed Thursday "in the well-being of our children is crucial to the Commonwealth’s commitment to protect students, teachers, staff and our future.”