A Republican state senate policy committee hosted a roundtable discussion about school safety in Williamsport on Thursday. Much of the discussion centered around ways to allocate the $60 million lawmakers reserved for it this year.
There were nearly a dozen school districts from Central Pennsylvania at the roundtable. Lawmakers and school officials agreed the school safety needs of different school districts can vary greatly.
“It’s a mental health issue, it’s a technology issue, it’s a personnel issue – it’s something that we really need to take very seriously,” said State Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill), chairman of the senate majority policy committee.
Argall said that’s why the legislature doesn’t mandate exactly how the funding should be spent, but rather, it leaves room for schools to apply for additional funding based on what their priorities are.
He didn’t leave out the possibility of arming volunteer teachers in rural districts, “where they may not have a policeman who can get to a school in 30 minutes.”
There was general consensus on the need for more trained officers embedded in schools as well as more accessible mental health services.
Patricia Cross, superintendent of the Sullivan County School District, said she supports the proposed Senate Bill 780, which would provide broader coverage of telemedicine and telepsychiatry.
“Transportation is a big obstacle,” Cross said. Families in her school district who need mental health services often need to drive more than an hour for help. “Telemedicine can be helpful.”
Angela Gockley, a chemistry teacher at the Lewisburg Area High School, agreed. She said many students stress about their education, and providing counseling can help students cope with many issues.
“In particular, I think addressing student anxiety, addressing student mental health, addressing mental health across the board is where we need to start,” Gockley said.
The school safety funding is expected to be allocated by next March.