Gov. Ron DeSantis signs school safety bill

The bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on is aimed at keeping students safe and largely centers around training and mental health resources.

Two weeks after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1421, a bill that is designed to improve school safety in Florida.

The bill, which was first filed in January, aims to develop threat assessment teams, safe-school officers, certain emergency drills, and more.

One day after 19 children and two adults were murdered at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas -- Florida officials signed and presented House Bill 1421 to DeSantis.

DeSantis said the bill expands legislative action he and others have taken since 2019 to implement recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission.

The commission was formed after the 2018 Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and faculty members were killed. It is scheduled to meet again Aug. 2, shortly before the start of the 2022-2023 school year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.

The bill also has an emphasis on mental health and includes training for faculty and students and mental health crisis intervention training for officers stationed at public schools.

“The training must improve the officer’s knowledge and skills as a first responder to incidents involving students with emotional disturbance or mental illness, including de-escalation skills to ensure student and officer safety,” the bill said.

Florida Rep. Fred Hawkins said mental health training measures “Allow law enforcement personnel and school staff to in effect become more sensitive to the warning signs of someone who is deeply troubled and thus mitigate risk before incidents have a chance to occur.”

He says their thoughts and prayers are with Texas and that “We must remain vigilant and train to recognize how best to react to such incidents and also learn how to defuse such events from occurring in the first place. HB 1421 is another step in the right direction to keep Florida Schools safe.”

Another mental-health component of the new law will require that 80 percent of employees at all schools receive training in “youth mental health awareness and assistance.”

The measure also will make other school-safety changes, including giving the State Board of Education rulemaking authority over emergency drills.

Part of the bill signed Tuesday deals with emergency drills for “active assailant and hostage situations,” bomb threats and natural disasters. District school-board policies and procedures currently guide such drills. But the new law will direct the State Board of Education to develop statewide rules for school emergency drills.

Those rules will be required to include “minimum emergency drill policies” that will guide timing, frequency, participation, training, notification and accommodations related to drills.

The rules also must require that all types of emergency drills are conducted annually, at a minimum.

Law-enforcement officers who are responsible for responding to schools during emergencies such as school shootings will have to be “physically present on campus and directly involved” in active-assailant emergency drills.

County school boards and charter schools also will be required under the law to adopt plans designed to reunite students with their families in the event of emergencies. Those plans will be drawn up in coordination with local governments and law-enforcement agencies.

The bill will go into effect July 1.

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