Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman displayed decisive leadership, while the reactionaries in the state legislature paused, by announcing the intent to create a school safety task force that would address the needs of children who are suffering from behavioral and emotional stress.
To be fair, the members of the Arizona State Legislature have enacted legislation, signed by Governor Ducey that will help our most vulnerable in our schools.
A recent measure, sponsored by Legislative District 18 State Senator Sean Bowie would mandate suicide awareness training for school teachers, counselors, and principals once every three years.
This is good legislation that will help all children, as well as other education and community stakeholders in schools and surrounding neighborhoods.
Unfortunately more is needed to help children who need counseling and guidance in our schools. Already burdened with an unmanageable counselor to student ratio of 905 to 1, Arizona Public Schools need more resources (including the hiring of school psychologists, counselors, behavior therapists, and classroom instructors) to help identify and assist children with behavioral and emotional issues.
The State Legislature, while finding the time, as AZ Central Columnist Laurie Roberts has pointed out, to officially make lemonade the state drink of Arizona, has failed to pass House Bill 2597, sponsored by Democratic State Representative Daniel Hernandez, which would have created a safety task force to formulate strategies to identify and help children that need behavioral and emotional assistance. A similar bill in the State Senate, sponsored by Republican State Senator Kate Brophy McGee did clear that body but the State House has not heard it.
With this impasse at the State Legislature, Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman joined by Senator McGee and student members of March for Our Lives (including Jordan Harb) announced in front of a press gathering, that she would be creating and organizing a School Safety Task Force geared to helping children in mental and emotional distress that the state has failed to address. This task force will include stakeholders from education, law enforcement, and mental and physical health caregivers. While this task force will have no enforceability mechanism on what it recommends, it will provide valuable insights and templates for all schools to utilize in augmenting and modifying their existing school safety programs.
Addressing the press, Superintendent Hoffman stated that:
“While we wait for the legislature to address school safety, I’m thrilled to begin working on bipartisan, comprehensive solutions that uplift and empower our schools, students and teachers to build safer educational communities,” Hoffman said.
Later on her Facebook page, Hoffman relayed that:
“Our legislature should have passed school safety bills proposed earlier this year by Kate Brophy McGee – State Senate and Representative Daniel Hernandez.”
“Despite legislative inaction, my administration is happy to set up and implement these policies. Along with student leaders of March for Our Lives Phoenix and Senator Brophy McGee, we announced the creation of a School Safety Task Force to begin building safer educational communities.”
Both Democratic Candidates for Maricopa County School Superintendent expressed their support for Hoffman’s initiative and praised her leadership.
Jeanne Casteen stated that:
“I think this is great. At the same time, the Republicans at the legislature block a bill to increase social workers, counselors, etc. Kathy Hoffman, because of her experience actually working in schools, understands the dire need for more funding for school safety. We are dead last in the nation for student-counselor ratios, and funding keeps getting cut, at the same time that anxiety and depression rates have dramatically increased in adolescents over the last five years (http://time.com/5550803/depression-suicide-rates-youth/)”
“It’s exciting to have an educator in this office demanding accountability for this as well as our charter system. This is why we need more educators in these policy positions.”
Jennifer Samuels added that:
“My middle school students have practiced lockdown drills their entire academic career. The times when we’re not sure if it’s a drill or if we’re in real danger are absolutely terrifying. Our kids deserve a safe community. When will we act? @azmfol @MomsDemand #EnoughIsEnough”