LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers heard four proposals Monday aimed at saving students’ lives and keeping schools secure.
One mandates tornado drills and policies. Another requires suicide awareness training for teachers and other school staff.
A third directs schools to establish procedures for easing students back into the classroom after concussions.
The fourth reinstates a state school security director position at the Nebraska Department of Education that was eliminated during the last state budget crunch.
State Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha told colleagues the last proposal, Legislative Bill 872, is key.
A statewide school security director could help Nebraska develop a broad approach to school safety, potentially incorporating the other proposals heard during the day, Kolowski said.
“We need to show our commitment to keeping our schools and our students safe,” he said. “I’ve been to too many student funerals in my lifetime.”
LB 872 would make the security director responsible for collecting safety and security plans from school districts, recommending minimum standards to the State Board of Education, assessing security at every school and establishing security awareness and preparedness training and programs.
Brian Halstead, legal counsel for the Education Department, said school safety is not just about installing new locks, doors, walls and camera systems.
Rather, the state needs to look at school safety and security issues systematically, he said. That should involve bringing together safety provisions that are now scattered throughout state law or in rules and regulations.
Among those rules is one passed in the aftermath of the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The rule mandates that all Nebraska schools develop safety plans.
Halstead said state education officials don’t have the expertise to help schools with those plans or to address other safety concerns.
A group of Millard Public Schools students urged support for LB 741, introduced by Sen. John Murante. The measure would require school districts to have tornado policies and to have at least three tornado drills a year.
Fifth-grader Derek Andersen said most other tornado-prone states already have such laws. About half of the tornadoes in Nebraska occur during the school year, he said.
John Skretta, superintendent of Norris Public Schools, echoed the students’ call for tornado policies and drills.
“Repetition aids learning, and practice at the appropriate level aids preparation,” he said.
Norris took a direct hit from an F4 tornado in May 2004, he said. Only one staff member was in the school, and he survived by taking shelter. But Skretta said the tornado caused massive damage to hallways and other areas that the district had previously considered safe shelters.
The brother of Lincoln teenager Trinity McDonald, who committed suicide in October, was among those testifying for LB 923, introduced by Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln.
The bill would require schools to provide an hour of suicide awareness training every year for teachers, nurses and other key staff members.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Nebraskans ages 15 through 34, said Aileen Brady of Omaha, speaking for Community Alliance. Youngsters often take their lives on impulse, she said, but 90 percent have signs of mental illness.
LB 782, introduced by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, would expand on a law passed three years ago that bars student athletes who suffer concussions from playing again without medical clearance.
The new bill would require schools to address students’ return to the classroom. Concussions can cause problems that interfere with learning, such as headaches, memory difficulties and an inability to focus.
The Education Committee took no immediate action on any of the measures.