The Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 14 has been met with generally positive reviews by officials, law enforcement and experts, but is not without criticism as its effect on a local level is still unknown.
“As a good guy, I think it will have some effect on school safety,” said DeWitt Township Chief of Police Brian Russell. “Thinking as a bad guy or kid, new people and technology may pose more of a challenge.”
Critics of the bill, which passed 407-10, claim it doesn’t go far enough to address the issue of school safety and might not be as effective as it seems given the allocated funding, $50 million per year.
“Fifty million dollars for 50 states will not go very far,” said DeWitt Public Schools Superintendent John Deiter. “Just one full-time resource officer for my district would cost almost $100,000. A full-time counselor would cost between $80,000 and $120,000.”
Deiter said he’d support the bill and that it’s “most appropriate to focus on prevention of these events [than] the reaction to them.”
The bill contains provisions to set up “anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence” via mobile applications, hotlines and websites; preventative training for law enforcement, school personnel and students; “threat assessment and intervention teams” coordinated between law enforcement and the school; new security measures via technology, metal detectors, locks and “other deterrent measures.”
The bill clarifies that no part of the funding is to go towards arming or training teachers. It was introduced before the Parkland shooting, but gained more attention following it.
Russell supports action of trying to enact legislation to make a positive impact on school safety.
“Doing something is better than doing nothing, so I am OK with it,” said Russell. “Improving school security and safety with technology and staff, all for it.”
Russell said adding additional law enforcement to schools would be a good idea.
The bill’s provisions take aim at preventing violent incidents before they can occur by either reporting suspicious activity beforehand or having a more entrance security measures ahead of time.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who represents DeWitt in Michigan’s 24th State Senate District, supports these components.
“I have personally been to schools, and walked in, and was shocked at some of the schools that I could just walk right into and no challenge, nothing,” said Jones. “We currently have an anonymous reporting system in Michigan, OK2SAY, and it’s been put in and it’s actually functioning pretty good.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced on April 5 that OK2SAY reached a record number of tips during March. The program began in 2014.
In a statement release following the passage of the bill in the House, Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland who represents DeWitt in Congress, voiced his support.
“Today’s legislation gives states and local school districts the resources and flexibility to implement measures they believe will work best to create a safe learning environment for students and teachers,” said Moolenaar.
The legislation is being called a “first step” piece by its supporters, allowing more bills to complement it later in a more gradual process.
“What it could do in different communities, in different states, it could have pilot programs,” said UCLA clinical professor Mark DeAntonio, an expert in mental health and illness and child psychology. “Doing that and if people saw the utility of those programs, then schools districts themselves could generalize them. So, I would see it more as seed money to start the process.”
The legislation can also give politicians a chance to gauge approval from their constituents about such actions.
“Congress could say ‘well, we’ll do this and see how much support we have, and then we’ll use that as a jumping off point for more stringent legislation,’” said Jon Spiegler, a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University. Spiegler said if constituents approve, it could prompt stronger bills to be proposed.
One other suggested positive is the bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House.
“It’s always best if you can make a bill bipartisan,” said Jones. “You’ve done your work, usually it’s going to be a popular law.”
“It passed the House by a huge margin, and it looks like it has some pretty significant bipartisan support in the Senate, so it’s got a good chance of becoming law,” said Spiegler. “This may have been designed to be able to get through Congress, so it’s been designed to not target guns so Republican members of Congress can sign up for it, they want to do something given how much an issue gun violence has become in the last couple of months since Parkland, so this seems like a good compromise piece of legislation.”
By not mentioning gun control in the bill, DeAntonio said he thinks that’s a good decision if the bill wants to become a law.
“If you want to broaden what’s going on and discuss who should have assault rifles, I think that’s a whole other discussion, I think there’s enough to talk about safety in schools that you don’t have to go there,” said DeAntonio. “Because that’s just polarizing, it’s just not going to work. I think trying to push that is unrealistic and becomes unnecessarily divisive, and then you’re going to get nothing done.”
Omitting funding for arming teachers is another aspect that generated positivity.
“No arming of teachers, OK with that, too,” said Russell. “I think that should be up to the businesses, schools, colleges, universities, or other establishment for them to decide what they want and need. If someone is going to be armed, no one should know, or they would be the first targets.”
Considerations against the bill are regarding its overall effectiveness in its intentions.
“I do not see this bill having a big effect on DeWitt Public Schools,” said Deiter. “My hunch is that this will not have a lot of impact because we already do most of the items included in it.”
Spiegler said that even though plan seems good on paper, it doesn’t quite go the distance it could.
Another issue lies within the true intentions of the politicians pushing the legislation.
“The weakness overall, I don’t believe anything that the political parties say,” said a gun store owner in Bath, Michigan, who requested his name not be published. “I have absolutely no confidence in what they say, or what they say they’re going to do, are they going to do it? That remains to be seen. More often than not, we as people are let down, often time it’s empty promises, what’s different this time?”
“There’s also the possibility that they could be using this to as a way to force-off criticism that they’re not doing anything, even though it doesn’t address the core issue of guns,” said Spiegler.
Along with that, the amount of funding comes into question too, since some don’t think it goes far enough.
“If you’re really serious about beefing up security in the schools, you’re going to have to have police officers in every school in the state, and that’s millions of dollars,” said the store owner. “The thing about it is law enforcement in general is strapped, they’re doing more with less now, how are they going to focus on school safety? You’re going to need a lot more funding.”
“Is there enough money to provide increased personnel, it’s expensive,” said Jones. “If you want to put an armed police officer in every school, it’s going to be a lot of money.”
Russell said the costs would be large to add new personnel.
The lack of mentioning guns in the bill has been seen in a negative light, that the bill doesn’t go far enough to solve the school violence problem.
“I do think it is a possible side-step around gun control debate,” said Deiter.
“It’s limited, and it wouldn’t address the overall issue of gun violence,” said Spiegler. “There’s nothing in here that really drills down to gun control, it’s more about stopping violence in general.”
The next steps
Assuming the bill becomes law, a popular proposed next step has been adding more mental health treatment affordances to schools.
“I don’t think it will bring anything new into our practice unless there enough funds to actually hire more people such as counselors and resource officers,” said Deiter. “There needs to be more resources and help for mental health.”
“I just heard from a school superintendent today, and he said what they really need is more school counselors and more mental health providers,” said Jones. Jones is a former police officer and said during his time with dealing with violent individuals in these types of situations that the state of their mental health was the common denominator.
DeAntonio said it’s key to have mental health care available on-site at schools.
“Research-wise, there’s a real problem for access of mental health care to students, if there’s concerns about them,” said DeAntonio. “Students fall through the cracks because they don’t have access to health care, so having someone on campus would give an entry point to at least do a triage and assessment and work with the school and the family with a troubled kid.”
As for gun control, Jones said he’s against it and it still won’t stop anyone from committing violent acts who want to, citing Chicago and London murder rates.
Spiegler said gun laws should be tightened through “no exception” background checks and closing the gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without a background check.
“These shooters are already violating law after law after law, writing it down on paper is good, but the bad guys don’t normally read the law or care what it says,” said Russell. “ If a not so sane person decides he or she is going to shoot up or destroy life, they seem to find a way. Unfortunately, there are many ways to use deadly force beside gunfire.”
The bill’s next stop will be in the Senate, where its vote date is yet to be announced.