Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has created a new statewide task force to examine ways to improve safety for the state’s schoolchildren.
The administration will hold six meetings around the state this spring to gather public input, including from students. The group includes representatives of administrators, parents, and nurses but its initial membership does not include students. Task force members will turn what they learn at public sessions into a report with recommendations lawmakers can act on, Wolf said.
“A generation of kids has gone to school since Columbine, and we politicians have not done enough” to protect them, Wolf said. “So here in Pennsylvania, we need to act to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to ensure schools are safe.”
The governor and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who will co-chair the task force, announced the initiative Thursday morning at Penn Wynne Elementary School in Wynnewood.
“They’re going to give us recommendations on three key areas of school safety. This is their charge: How we can address the health care needs of students who need help, that’s first,” Wolf said. “Second, how can we improve school safety in school buildings? And third, how can we improve teachers and staff responses, should an incident happen?”
DePasquale expects guns and gun control will be key topics too, after a gunman last month killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in one of the deadliest high school shootings in U.S. history.
“There’s simply no way after Parkland that gun safety isn’t going to be part of the discussion,” DePasquale said. “But we also want to make sure that’s not the only thing we’re talking about.”
Task force members also will determine if additional funding will help; gauge the efficacy of student support, physical and mental health programs, and information sharing; evaluate active shooter trainings and other security measures; and figure out ways people can anonymously report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
So far, the task force does not include any students, even though Parkland prompted an unprecedented level of activism by students calling for gun control. Tens of thousands of students held a National Walkout Day Wednesday to demand lawmakers do more to protect the nation from gun violence, and another walkout is planned on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine massacre.
But DePasquale said officials still are recruiting members and consider student input key.
“The key here is we need to listen,” Wolf agreed. “We don’t want to say here’s what you ought to do. We need to listen to teachers, we need to listen to law enforcement officials, we need to listen to parents, we need to listen to the students. And that’s what this task force is about.”
The Wolf administration has appointed four vice chairs of the task force. They are: Charles Ramsey, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and Philadelphia’s former police commissioner; Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators; Judy Morgitan, immediate past president of the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners; and Bonita Allen, president of the Pennsylvania Parent Teacher Association.
Citizens who can’t attend the regional meetings also will be able to submit their suggestions and thoughts online here.