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Veterans, retired police could become armed school ‘guardians’ under Kentucky bill

Senator Max Wise speaks to reporters after a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education.
J. Tyler Franklin
Senator Max Wise speaks to reporters after a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education.

A proposed update to Kentucky’s School Safety Act would allow armed veterans and retired police to patrol schools.

A bill filed in the Kentucky Senate would allow schools to bring in armed veterans and retired law enforcement officers as “guardians.”

Campbellsville Republican Sen. Max Wise said his legislation, Senate Bill 2, would create a layer of protection for schools who can’t find or afford a school resource officer.

The 2019 School Safety Act, passed in response to the deadly 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School, requires each school campus to have a school resource officer, or SRO, as personnel and funding are available.

Wise said 600 school campuses are without an SRO in Kentucky. That’s due to a shortage of law enforcement professionals and a lack of funding for schools to fill the mandate.

Under SB 2, which is a priority bill for the Senate, guardians would have to meet a number of requirements, including a background check, marksmanship qualifications and the first 40 hours of SRO certification training. Veterans would have to have received an honorable discharge.

The measure follows discussions lawmakers had with former Kentucky National Guard members and other veterans about creating a pathway for them to become SROs with less training than other applicants. A legislative Task Force on School and Campus Safety heard in November about a “guardian” program in Florida schools.

“There was a large number of veterans that had discussed possibly becoming school protectors,” Wise said during a news conference Thursday. “And so with that, I think we look at a whole host of people, of what they bring to that position. It also can be a great mentor for many people — someone that served honorably in our country's military to also be there as someone that can provide that guidance within a school wall.”

Wise said the guardians would not have arresting authority and would not be involved in disciplining students. The bill would not require the guardian to carry a firearm, as opposed to SROs who are mandated by law to carry a gun.

Several Republican senators welcomed the possibility of getting veterans into schools as “protectors” when they first heard the proposal in September at the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

But Paris Republican Rep. Matthew Koch, a former Marine, urged “extreme caution.”

“I just want to stress to everybody in this room before we go jumping on this, the role of someone who's walking in the mountains of Afghanistan, versus the role of somebody who's walking the halls of Bourbon County Middle School are extremely, extremely different,” Koch said at the time.

Koch did not respond to an inquiry from LPM News asking whether the drafters of SB 2 had addressed his concerns.

In addition to creating the guardian program, SB 2 would require schools to offer two suicide prevention lessons each school year. It would also add new reporting requirements for schools’ trauma-informed teams. The bill would require all school districts to have an anonymous reporting tool for people to alert the district of possible safety concerns.

Finally, the measure would require the Kentucky Center for School Safety to create and store thorough maps of each school campus “to ensure efficient response to any emergency on a school campus.”

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.
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