HCN News & Notes

Baker-Polito Administration Highlights School-safety Initiatives, New Funding

BOSTON — Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, joined by Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Riley, acting Commissioner of Early Education and Care Amy Kershaw, and public-safety officials, announced plans to file legislation proposing significant investments in school-safety initiatives to support programming, training, and resources for schools and districts throughout the Commonwealth.

“As children return full-time to the classroom this fall, we want parents and educators to know that our administration is always working to improve and build on all the resources available to districts to make their schools as secure as possible,” Baker said. “Our administration has and will continue to provide critical resources for students, staff, families, and first responders while making significant investments in training for first responders and school staff so they can protect Massachusetts schools.”

Baker signed a supplemental budget with $15 million for school-safety initiatives in October 2018. To date, as part of the Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative, the Baker-Polito administration has awarded $15 million in grant funding, including $7.5 million to more than 150 districts statewide to invest in security-related infrastructure upgrades and $7.5 million in grant funding to increase mental-health support and to support schools’ hiring of additional mental-health and behavioral-health specialists.

Additionally, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and the Department of Early and Secondary Education frequently collaborate on training and best practices for emergency and active-shooter responses in school settings. District superintendents are required each year to attest to that they have a multi-hazard evacuation plan in place and provide training to support that plan.

The Commonwealth has also adopted the Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) program, an internationally recognized model for integrated active-shooter and hostile-event response. Through cross-discipline collaboration among first responders and emergency personnel, ASHER is designed to protect communities and help them prepare for, respond to, and recover from crisis events. The ASHER framework has already been implemented in state-run police and fire training academies, and parallel training is being finalized for current state police and fire personnel.

The Baker-Polito administration will file a supplemental budget request in the coming weeks totaling nearly $40 million to support critical school-safety initiatives and equip students, staff, and emergency responders with the training necessary to respond to better respond to threats within schools.

The proposal will include matching grants for security and communications upgrades in K-12 schools and public higher-education institutes, grant funding for childcare providers to support safety measures and multi-hazard emergency planning, grant funding to help districts pilot an anonymous tipline to report potential threats, funding for a statewide “Say Something” public-awareness campaign and corresponding training, support for ongoing emergency-response training for school officials, and creation of a comprehensive school-safety website.

“These safety proposals would support a huge range of children and students, from those in childcare to those at public colleges and universities,” Education Secretary James Peyser said. “The key to these proposals is collaboration among different state agencies and different local entities. When we invest in strengthening partnerships between school districts and first responders, we help ensure that schools are safe environments focused on learning and growing.”