Idaho's superintendent says school safety is her number one priority, and she's launching a major new initiative. Sherri Ybarra sat down to tell 6 On Your Side's Michelle Edmonds about the "Keep Idaho Students Safe" program. Ybarra calls it her "KISS" campaign.
The safe schools initiative involves three new programs. It starts by requiring all Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and administrators to take 45 hours of prevention training. "We often talk about arming teachers. We are arming our teachers, for lack of a better word, with knowledge," says Ybarra. The three-credit course would cover topics like behavioral threat assessment, positive school climate strategies, social media impact, bullying and suicide prevention.
Ybarra also wants every school in Idaho to have access to a school resource officer. She says this idea came directly from what students have shared with her when she asked them if they feel safe at school. "When they are in their classroom they feel safe. But when they are in large masses -- the lunch room, an assembly or all coming in in the morning when the bell rings -- those are the times they do not feel safe. And when they would like to see a security presence," says Ybarra. With this initiative, schools could apply for state grant money to pay for a security presence. Districts would decide if they want that person armed.
Lastly, the Superintendent wants to create a new position in her office -- a Crisis Communications Counselor who would coordinate state resources for any kind of school threat. This idea came from the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. "I actually had a conversation with the Superintendent of Florida Schools, and she said one of the things you have to remember is that crisis communication counselor is key because, when it happens, there is just not enough people. Everyone did the right thing. Emergency management was in place, but there is the aftermath that you deal with," says Ybarra.
This three-pronged safety approach comes with a $21 million price tag. Ybarra hopes lawmakers will see this as a small price to pay to keep Idaho students safe. If the legislature approved the supplemental budget request next January, schools could start tapping into these additional safety dollars in a year from now. But don't forget this is an election year and Ybarra faces both a primary challenger and the general election before she can try and push this new initiative through.