For Immediate Release
Contact: Dale Wetzel, Public Information Specialist
Baesler, Education Leaders Discuss School Safety Agenda
BISMARCK, N.D., March 1, 2018 – State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said a comprehensive school safety effort should include greater access to school resource officers and behavioral health specialists, as well as training in early identification of potential threats.
Baesler and representatives of North Dakota United, the North Dakota School Boards Association and the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders met Thursday in the superintendent’s Capitol office to find common ground on a school safety agenda for the 2019 Legislature.
Baesler said subsequent meetings are planned, and that process will be broadened to include parents, teachers, students, law enforcement, rural schools, human services workers, and other stakeholders.
“Our students deserve a comprehensive approach that actually solves this issue,” said Aimee Copas, director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders. The NDCEL represents school superintendents, principals and other administrators.
Baesler said the school safety issue is complex. “There are no easy answers here,” she said. “If there were easy answers, we would have implemented them already.”
Participants in Thursday’s meeting included Baesler; Copas; Chad Oban, director of North Dakota United, which represents school teachers and public employees; and Alexis Baxley, director of the North Dakota School Boards Association.
Baesler said the group’s top priorities are school training for identifying potential safety threats, what to do with the information, and making sure there is adequate follow-up; making safety improvements to school buildings; greater access to school resource officers, who are law enforcement personnel assigned to schools; and expanding the availability of behavioral health specialists.
Members of the group said they understand why some North Dakotans believe teachers should be armed, but they believe there are better solutions. Proposals to allow North Dakota teachers to carry guns in school have been defeated in the last three sessions of the state Legislature. Oban said his organization has asked teachers if they favor being armed in class, and he said they overwhelmingly oppose the idea.
“We know that everybody is working toward the same goal, which is to keep our students safe,” Oban said. “We just don’t believe that arming teachers is the best approach. We think there are other, better ways to keep our kids safe.”
Baxley said school safety was of the utmost importance to local school board members, and she said they should be involved in discussions of the issue. “The job of school board members is to make sure their students get a good education,” Baxley said. “And to educate students, first they need to feel safe.”
Baesler said Thursday’s meeting was just the beginning of conversations about school safety that will take place across the state.
“We realize that we need to bring more people into this conversation,” Baesler said. “We need to bring parents and students into this conversation. We need to bring in our small, rural schools. We need to include law enforcement at the state and local level, and we need to bring in the Department of Human Services.”
Baesler has been meeting with Col. Mike Gerhart, superintendent of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, about schools providing space for Highway Patrol troopers to do paperwork during their shifts. Troopers who are on their regular patrols often pull to the side of the road to do required reports. That work could be done in a school, Baesler said.
“Of course, the good work of our local North Dakota law enforcement officers – our city police, our county sheriffs, and everyone else – is needed to address this issue,” Baesler said. “At the end of the day, a comprehensive approach to keeping our schools safe is going to involve everyone in North Dakota.”