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Column: Improving threat assessment at schools

State Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said he is considering running for Minnesota Senate. Submitted photo

Rep. Keith Franke is a St. Paul Park Republican.

Ever since the tragic events in Parkland, Florida, I've heard from local residents, parents, teachers, and administrators about a need to improve school safety. As a grandparent and uncle of kids in our local schools, this is a very real concern, and something we're looking to address at the state level. I'm currently authoring or co-authoring a number of different bills I believe can help to keep Minnesota kids safer at school.

First, I'm authoring a bill that allocates funding and requires school districts to establish a threat assessment team, which include members in various areas of expertise relating to school safety, who must assess, intervene, and report individuals that may pose a safety risk to students, teachers, and staff. These teams, made up of teachers and faculty, would be trained to identify possible red flags in behavior and report individuals to the superintendent and to the proper authorities. Put simply, it creates a streamlined process for students, faculty, and staff to report potentially threatening behavior to those that can intervene before a violent crime is committed in a school.

Virtually every one of these school shootings is a predatory crime, methodically planned and executed. Therein lies the promise of a threat assessment team. There are weeks, months, or even years when a would-be killer is escalating toward violence where a window of opportunity could have been detected and thwarted.

My bill shows that keeping our kids safer in schools transcends political ideology or party. The initiative has both Republican and Democrat co-authors in the House, and is authored by DFL Senator Karla Bigham in the Senate. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution to violence in schools, members from both parties see this as one possible answer to helping create a safer school environment for Minnesota kids. My legislation was recently heard in committee, and moved one step closer to passage.

Another possible solution lies in improving the security of our physical school buildings. I'm co-authoring a bill by Rep. Jennifer Loon which allows schools to use the long-term facilities maintenance revenue fund in addition to the safe schools levy, giving districts the flexibility to make safety improvements as they see fit. Giving districts this flexibility in their budgets allows them to — if they see a significant need — prioritize safety improvements. The freedom to make these changes can significantly speed up the process, allowing districts to more quickly address their present safety concerns. The sooner we can allow them this option, the better.

One way to identify needed security enhancements in schools is for an expert to audit the building for ways to improve security. I'm co-authoring legislation that provides $2 million in grants to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to reimburse to schools who have a security professional audit the safety of their building. Under the legislation, the DPS commissioner would create a minimum standard of expertise for who may conduct the audits — like a professional certified by the American Society for Industrial Security. This bill could help mitigate some of the costs of hiring an outside expert to help districts identify potential security upgrades.

For me, and for many of my colleagues at the Capitol, improving school safety is at the top of our list for this session. I see these bills, as well as others I'm co-authoring, as common sense measures we can all agree on to make schools safer. I'll continue to work on school safety legislation, and welcome input from any member of the community who has ideas of how to make sure our kids, teachers, and staff feel safe in Minnesota classrooms.

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