Following the horrific and heartbreaking events in Uvalde, Texas two weeks ago, many states are looking within their educational communities to make changes and ensure that their students are safe at school. Georgia’s Governor, Republican Brian Kemp, has spoken about focusing on mental health initiatives since taking office in 2019. Amidst the senseless violence of the Uvalde shooting and increasingly chaotic information regarding the actions of police officers on site, Governor Kemp spoke out last week to double down on those efforts.
School safety efforts in Georgia are largely headed by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HS), which is partnered with the Georgia Department of Public Safety and the Georgia Department of Education. However, the efforts of these agencies remain largely focused on the training and distribution of various law enforcement personnel. There are eight Homeland Security Coordinators in the state who assist law enforcement officers in schools. At the annual School Safety and Homeland Security Conference this year, training will be offered to GA educators and law enforcement officers by members of the U.S. National Threat Assessment Center and the National Police Foundation. GEMA/HS has also developed a Site Threat Access and Response (STAR) Audit, which helps schools identify their points of vulnerability. Over 120 Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) trainings have been administered during Governor Kemp’s term. These trainings are meant to help personnel identify active shooters, study the history of such incidents, and discuss various responses.
The glaring gap being left by these efforts is proactivity. More money and resources are expended on the response to school shootings than on ensuring that they do not occur in the first place. Even setting aside the most obvious factor of gun control (Georgia has some of the weakest gun laws in the country), Governor Kemp’s well-intentioned efforts may be falling short. Providing more training to law enforcement officers in schools may not be an effective use of resources, given the at-best lackluster and at-worst harmful contributions of police officers during the Uvalde shooting.
Governor Kemp has spoken about taking measures to monitor and foster the mental health of students and staff in Georgia schools, but his actions may not be reflecting this goal. Governor Kemp set aside $69 million in 2019 for school security grants, but only allotted $6 million this year towards mental health initiatives. Additionally, over 300 school resource officers will receive field training this year focusing on active shooters. The disparity between resources spent on mental health programs and those perpetuating an excessive police presence in schools begs the question: what should school safety really look like? More officers with more training means more guns in the building. When police presence has generally not been shown to make schools safer in the first place, it’s high time to invest more in community programs and the mental and emotional health of our students, who deserve to attend school with a guarantee that they will go home at the end of the day.
A recent study by the ACLU on discipline and safety at U.S. schools found that while students of color have always experienced academic discipline at disparate rates, these conditions have worsened with the increase of police presence in schools. California, for example, enrolls four times as many White students as Black students, but the number of school days lost to suspension was nearly equal for Black students (141,000) as it was for White students (151,000). Nationally, schools continue to prioritize law enforcement over mental health and social services, reporting over 27,000 police officers in school as compared with just 23,000 counselors. This exaggerated presence leads to more policing of student behavior, which continues to disproportionately affect students of color and contribute to the School-to-Prison Pipeline.