Thousands of school students will be heading back to school in the next few weeks.
And, with the excitement for kids of seeing old friends again, shopping for school supplies and going to football games, there is also parent anxiety due to school tragedies that are every family’s worst nightmare.
In Pennsylvania, we take school safety seriously.
We previously passed laws dedicating funding for the Safe Schools Targeted Grant program, allocating $3.9 million for schools to apply for grants to hire school police or resource officers and set aside $2.6 million for a security-related equipment grant program.
This year, we passed several additional measures into law exceeding past investments to better ensure our children have a safe environment in which to learn.
As part of the 2018-19 state budget, a $60-million block grant program will allow schools to apply for grants to be used for a variety of safety and security enhancements.
Those enhancements could include hiring school police officers, school resource officers, counselors and/or mental health counselors; alternative education and diversion programs; violence prevention initiatives; school safety and emergency preparedness plans; or physical upgrades to school buildings and equipment to improve safety.
To help prevent violent incidents, an individual will soon be able to submit an anonymous report via a phone, computer or smartphone app through the new Safe2Say program.
The new tip line will allow students, teachers and community residents to anonymously report any unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent or criminal activities in schools.
The tip line will be staffed by trained professionals who can appropriately respond to the situation and provide the reporter peace of mind their concern will be addressed.
It is modeled after the Safe2Tell program in Colorado, which has received more than 30,000 reports since its inception in 2004, including reports of a planned school attack, suicidal threats and child abuse.
In addition, as a way to give school officials additional guidance in creating safer schools, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will offer a uniform approach to evaluating current security measures in every school building.
School employees will also receive mandatory training on school safety and security, and annual school security drills will be required.
A final component of the new law will allow school boards to go into private, executive session for school safety discussions.
This will allow school officials to debate and develop security plans without disclosing those plans to potential attackers.
To help make sure students arrive safely to school, Pennsylvania motorists are reminded to allow extra time and be aware of how to share the road safely with buses and other school transportation vehicles once school is back in session.
Pennsylvania law requires motorists stop at least 10 feet away from school buses when their red lights are flashing and their stop arm is extended.
Motorists following or traveling alongside a school bus must also stop until the red lights have stopped flashing and the stop arm is withdrawn. Do not proceed until all children have reached a place of safety.
Motorists who fail to follow school bus safety laws can face penalties resulting in a $250 fine, five points on a driving record and a 60-day license suspension.
Students also need to be reminded they should always make sure the bus driver can see them while boarding or exiting the bus.
For information and tips on school bus safety, go to PennDOT.gov and type in “School Bus Safety” in the search bar.
Editor’s note: State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie represents the 134th Legislative District which includes: Alburtis, Lower Macungie Township, Macungie, Salisbury Township (Wards 4 and 5) and South Whitehall (Districts 3 and 4) in Lehigh County; and Hereford, Longswamp, Richmond and Rockland townships, and Topton borough in Berks County.