Participants in a heavily attended Statehouse summit in Montgomery on school safety agreed Wednesday that taking steps to prevent tragedies like the Connecticut shooting massacre will be a priority when the Alabama Legislature opens its regular session next month.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure this type of heartbreaking incident does not occur in this state,” said Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Pelham, chair of the House Education Policy Committee.
The hot-button issue drew hundreds of people, prompting the venue to be moved from a meeting room to the House chamber. Lawmakers, educators and law enforcement officers were present at the gathering presided over by McClurkin and Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Education Policy Committee.
Most speakers agreed that taking steps to deter school shooting incidents would be a key issue in the session that opens Feb. 5 and runs until mid-May.
“We want to insure that no parent has to receive the type or phone call the parents at Sandy Hook Elementary School had to endure,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said.
The meeting was called by House and Senate leaders to discuss school safety following the shooting last month that killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school.
Most speakers agreed they do not feel that arming teachers is a solution to the problem.
“I don’t like the idea of arming people when a gun is not going to stop what is going on,” said Democratic Rep. Thomas Jackson of Thomasville.
Democratic state Sen. Vivian Figures of Mobile said many of those involved in past shootings have had mental health problems and she want to see mental health professionals involved in finding a solution.
One legislator, Rep. Kerry Rich of Albertville, said he is working on a bill that would allow some teachers and school staff members, chosen by the superintendent, to be armed in the event of an active shooter situation.
State schools Superintendent Tommy Bice said all state public schools must have a school safety plan to help deal with such situations.
One solution came from state Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier, a former state legislator. Collier said all state law enforcement officers should have training on dealing with active shooter situations — though only 28 percent of the state’s force has that training today.
Collier also asked legislators to appropriate the money so that maps and vital information on all schools can be placed on “Virtual Alabama” an online mapping system.
The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center released a special report Wednesday on violence in Alabama schools. In 2011, the report found, 2 percent of all reported violent offenses and 3 percent of all reported simple assaults in Alabama occurred in schools.