Governor signs bill to bolster school crisis intervention, enhance safety

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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an update to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act Tuesday that will bolster school crisis intervention and include charter schools in some safety requirements.

The new law aims to improve earlier legislation passed in response to the state’s worst school shooting in 2018 at MSD High School in Parkland. Testimony during this year’s Senate and House hearings on the update revealed none of the state’s 67 school districts were entirely in compliance with the law that aimed to improve school safety.

So the new law will cement some new requirements and increase school districts’ accountability.

“Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment,” DeSantis said in a statement. “By signing HB 1421, we continue to build on the many steps we have taken since 2019 to implement the recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, while also making record investments in mental health and school safety.”

Republican Fred Hawkins sponsored the bill, and the Senate adopted that after. Sen. Joe Gruters introduced similar legislation (SB 802). It passed unanimously in both chambers.

The Governor highlighted some provisions in the 19-page law. The law will:

• Extend the term of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission from 2023 to 2025.

• Increase the powers of the Education Commissioner to enforce, rather than just oversee, school safety and security compliance.

• Authorize safe school officers to make arrests on charter school property.

• Mandate that safe school officers complete crisis intervention and training to better respond and de-escalate situations.

• Require law enforcement officers to be active at assailant emergency drills at school.

• Require school boards to adopt family reunification plans in the event of an evacuation to avoid the chaotic scene that unfolded after the MSD shooting.

• Require school districts to annually certify at least 80% of school personnel have received mandatory youth mental health awareness training.

Tuesday’s signing drew praise from stakeholders, according to the Governor’s Office.

State Board of Education Member Ryan Petty, whose daughter was killed in the MSD rampage, called DeSantis’ action “a huge leap forward.”

“Extending the Commission’s work and requiring mental health and de-escalation training for safe-school officers will make a major difference in mitigating the risk of a future tragedy,” he said.

Tony Montalto, the president of Stand with Parkland who lost of daughter in the shooting, called the legislation “an important next step” to providing students and parents the assurances they need.

“Florida will continue to do everything possible to make sure our schools meet the highest safety standards and that mental health issues associated with school violence are being addressed,” Montalto said.

The Governor’s Office also noted DeSantis has continued to invest in improving students’ mental health and school safety.

The budget has a record $140 million for mental health and $210 million for school safety approved. That includes school hardening grants and youth mental health awareness and assistance training, the release said.

Every year DeSantis has been in office, he’s increased these investments, according to the release. Although his decision to end the state’s biennial participation in the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, which identifies student risks, has come under criticism.

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing anne@floridapolitics.com.

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