Oklahoma Legislators Continue Conversation On School Security Measures

Representative Jacob Rosecrants and Senator Adam Pugh have both worked tirelessly on education issues at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Wednesday, August 30th 2023, 5:49 pm

Between the shooting in Choctaw and bomb threats in Tulsa, school security is top of mind for lawmakers right now. 

News 9 talked with two lawmakers who have been a huge part of continuing the conversation around school security legislation. 

“It needs to be talked about, it's a huge concern,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, (D) Norman. “As soon as the last session started, that was a big thing they were talking about- school security, school security, still talking about it now.”

“Now it's a larger conversation about the campus at large and maybe football stadiums or performing arts centers,” said Sen. Adam Pugh, (R ) Edmond.

Rep. Rosecrants and Sen. Pugh have both worked tirelessly on education issues at the capitol.

“The state takes this responsibility very seriously,” said Pugh.

But Pugh and Rosecrants aren’t just making these decisions as lawmakers, they’re making them as parents.

“That's a much more important perspective in my opinion, so when I drop my kids off at school in the morning, the first thing I'm thinking is are they physically safe,” said Pugh.

“As a parent myself of two kids in high school, anything that we can do to make our schools safer needs to be done,” said Rosecrants.

Rosecrants conducted an interim study before the last session to pinpoint the greatest needs when it comes to school security. He said he noticed a shortage of school psychologists, and says a big roadblock on a lot of the solutions is funding. 

Rosecrants also said he learned that school security isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Your suburban districts are going to be different than your inner-city districts and your rural districts are going to be way different than both,” said Rosecrants.

Pugh was a key player in passing the school security grant this session, giving $150 million to implement school safety plans unique to each district in the state, and an additional $2 million for schools to undergo risk and vulnerability assessments.

“We didn't want it to just be a statewide solution, we wanted to allow individual school districts flexibility,” said Pugh.

That money can be used to hire additional school resource officers or implement new technology on campuses such as metal detectors.

Now, both lawmakers are hoping to continue the conversation with parents and educators to ensure they’re doing what they can to keep Oklahoma students safe.

“I'm here to advocate for them and help them solve these problems with state resources , but in the end, they're going to be the decision makers who know what's right for their district,” said Pugh.

“I think the school security conversation will continue on,” said Rosecrants.

In addition to the school safety laws passed this year, legislators authored SB1307 in 2022, which requires districts to issue identification cards to print on either side of the cards the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and it allows the Crisis Text Line to be printed on either side of the cards. That law went into effect on Nov. 1, 2022.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters tells News 9 his focus is on prevention and response, applauding lawmakers for the behavioral threat assessment tool which helps schools identify and intervene with students who may be at risk of harming others.

Walters also highlighted the RAVE Panic Button, which allows schools to report active threats to law enforcement.

In a statement, Governor Kevin Stitt said he was heartbroken over the news of the senseless violence at Choctaw High School, adding that violence will not be tolerated in Oklahoma.

Full statement from Governor Stitt: 

"Sarah and I are heartbroken over the news of the senseless violence at Choctaw High School last night. We are praying for everyone involved," said Gov. Stitt. "Let me be clear, violence will not be tolerated in Oklahoma. I am deeply thankful to the Choctaw and Del City officers who responded quickly and saved lives. My office is in contact with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and Choctaw law enforcement and we're monitoring the situation."

House Speaker Charles McCall sent a statement, condemning the threats in Tulsa schools:

“First and foremost, I want to condemn the bomb threats leveled against multiple public schools here in Oklahoma this week. Violence, and threats of violence, whether a hoax or legitimate, against our students are completely unacceptable and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Secondly, I would like to see the political activism surrounding education eliminated, and more targeted action plans focused on raising test scores and increasing education outcomes for our students. Recently, it seems as if 5% of the people are stirring up controversy, while the other 95% just want to see our kids get better test scores and succeed in the classroom.
Oklahoma classrooms should not be laboratories for political activism, they should be places where our kids go to learn the basic education skills needed to succeed. In the same way, Oklahoma’s elected leaders should not be adding fuel to the fires of controversy, we should be focused on making sure our kids are getting a good education, and our educational outcomes are improving.
Oklahoma’s education ranking is among the lowest in the country for a number of reasons, and that ranking isn’t going to change if we are constantly engaged in a political battle of wills. We must get the focus back on student outcomes, and away from political rhetoric.
I’m calling on all involved parties to end the rhetoric and do better for the children of Oklahoma.”

Representative Jeff Boatman, (R ) Tulsa, also released a statement, saying: 

“It is past time for threats against the safety of our schools, students, teachers and administrators to stop. I am certain that the men and women of our law enforcement agencies will work tirelessly until they find the person or persons responsible for these despicable threats and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
However, I take issue with the messaging and controversy that preceded and emboldened last week's threats. 
Our children are the future of our city, state and nation, and they deserve the very best that we can provide. They deserve for their leaders to sacrifice our pride and personal agendas in favor of setting our kids up for success.
Whether we are posting social media content, or reposting it, public servants have a duty to them to put the best interest first of our most vulnerable first. Controversy, divisiveness, and fear mongering are not ever in their best interest. Fighting political battles instead of working together to improve the education system that we offer them is never the foundation of sound policy.
I am asking those entrusted with the education of our children at each and every level to hold themselves to a higher standard. It's time we move away from satire, mistrust, hateful rhetoric and threats and instead have a serious, thoughtful discussion on how to move our state’s education system forward. When we fail to rise above, we fail our children and our state. There is a way to do this better, and we owe it to our children to try to find that way."

Representative Ross Ford (R ) Broken Arrow, also weighed in after the Union bomb threats, saying in a statement: 

“I will work with law enforcement in any I can way to help protect the young people and teachers in our public schools and to ensure these perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Ford said. “I take very seriously the matter of school security and will not abide threats made against our children or our educators. Students, parents and all educators deserve schools that are free from violence and the threat of violence.
“We must be vigilant to foster an environment where youth can thrive as they learn. I and many other lawmakers have worked hard to support our public schools with increased funding for our classrooms and teacher pay raises as well as many other policy changes intended to boost student academic success. We will not abide these threats of harm against the innocent.”

Representative TJ Marti, ( R) Tulsa, also condemned the threats, sending this statement:

“These threats against our schools must stop. Law enforcement must do everything in their power to track down those responsible for making them and our judicial system must prosecute these perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.
The rhetoric spurring these threats has been tolerated long enough and must end today. We know that our education system needs improvement, but there is a process in place to do that. These threats and hateful rhetoric have no place in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is home to some of the best teachers in the nation, and they are doing everything they can to help students achieve academic and personal success. Our focus should be on helping students across the state succeed, not villainizing our hard-working educators and administrators or terrorizing innocent students and their families."

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