Delaware lawmaker introduces plan for $65M school safety fund

Legislative Hall in Dover. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Legislative Hall in Dover. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Hoping to prevent a mass shooting in Delaware’s schools, state Sen. Dave Lawson wants to establish a $65 million school safety fund, dedicated to safety-related capital projects.

Lawson is calling for the money to come from an unexpected $100 million budget surplus.

“I’ve consulted with educators, I’ve consulted with construction persons, I’ve consulted with a tremendous amount of parents, and this is what they are asking for, and I think it’s time,” said Lawson, R- Marydel. “The public demands the protection of our children. I’m demanding the protection of our children.”

Public and charter schools statewide would be eligible for the one-time funding, which would be administered through the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. School safety projects could include installing bulletproof or bullet-resistant glass; installing video cameras and key card systems at every door; or screening people, book bags and packages coming into the school.

However, schools must meet certain requirements to receive the money. Chief among them, schools must have two armed security guards at the main entrance, where school buses drop off and pick up students. For a school to qualify, the guards cannot be school resource officers (a term for police stationed inside a school).

“The schools are going to have to pick up the costs for the personnel,” Lawson said. “So those two armed security personnel will have to come through the school. That’s on their budget, but let’s look at it. The state pays 70 percent of the personnel costs for the schools anyway, so the state’s picking up the lion’s share anyhow.”

The way Lawson envisions it, returning veterans would serve as the armed guards.

“This whole thing comes from the Israeli method of protecting schools. And what they do when a child walks in, that child’s coat is flared open, the waistband is checked, the coat is checked and any bag or anything else that that child or … person wishing entry has will go through screening.

“They haven’t had any school assaults in 42 years in Israel,” said Lawson, who is a veteran and former state police trooper.

On average, there has been one school shooting every week in the U.S. so far this year. Tuesday’s news conference comes just days after a teenager killed 10 people and hurt 10 others at a Texas high school.

“I think it’s time we step up, and it’s time we commit the moneys and the energy to protect our kids. For if we fail to do that, a tragedy will strike Delaware,” Lawson said.

Any money that was not used in the first year would not be returned to the state’s general fund, but would stay separate for school safety use until it was depleted.

Senate Bill 215 will be sent out for additional sponsors to sign on before it’s assigned to a committee.

Governor John Carney’s communications director, Jonathan Starkey, said the governor “absolutely agrees,” that any and all proposals to safeguard schools and protect children should be considered.

“[The governor] has spoken with Senator Lawson about his proposal, but has not reviewed the proposal in detail. We take school safety very seriously in Delaware.”

All Delaware public schools are required to have a school safety plan that addresses emergency incidents. Each year, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Education work with traditional public and charter schools statewide to update their plans, and test them through staff training.

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