Despite Legislative Roadblocks, Arizona Superintendent Creates School Safety Task Force

By Mariana Dale, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 9:03am
Updated: Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 4:51pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (8.91 MB)

Kate Brophy McGee talks about education mental health policy
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
“At the end of the day the problem is mental health, whether the weapon chosen is a gun, a knife or something else,” said Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.

This year, a group of people, including educators, students, counselors and law enforcement, will study how to make Arizona schools safer.

The new school safety task force was first imagined in failed bipartisan legislation.

“At the end of the day the problem is mental health, whether the weapon chosen is a gun, a knife or something else,” said Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee who sponsored a bill that included language for the task force. A similar proposal from Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr. also died in the Republican-lead legislature.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman decided the state’s education department would create the task force anyway and announced it at a press conference Monday.

There isn’t a specific timeline, but the task force’s goals include creating a model school safety plan and assembling information about existing resources for Arizona school districts.

While the bill proposed by Rep. Hernandez would have required schools to adopt plans to address students emotional and behavioral health, Hoffman’s task force lacks the authority.

Emma Rowland, the political director of March For Our Lives Arizona
Justin Stabley/KJZZ
Emma Rowland, the political director of March For Our Lives Arizona.

“I think sometimes some of that resistance to change comes from a place of not having the capacity to implement new changes, and so we want to do everything we can with our staff to be there supporting them and helping them,” Hoffman said.

The focus on mental health-related policy was a priority of the Arizona chapter of March For Our Lives, the movement created after a high school shooting in Florida killed 17 people.

“This session, we have pushed the idea that school safety is more than just fences armed guards and cameras,” said Jordan Harb, a leader of the group and Mesa high school senior.

Last year, the group advocated for stronger gun control policy through vigils and “die ins” at the Capitol.

“I wouldn’t say that we have softened, but rather changed our focus on something that’s actually able to be done,” Harb said. “We can explore all aspects of school safety ... without roadblocks, without legislative concerns, without legislative politics and come back here in a year with pragmatic solutions."

Gov. Doug Ducey signed another school safety bill earlier this month. House Bill 2119 requires school districts to adopt policies for reporting suspected crimes to law enforcement.

KJZZ’s Mariana Dale was there and joined The Show to talk about what all this means.

The Show also spoke with Emma Rowland, the political director of March For Our Lives Arizona. She’s a senior at Veritas Preparatory Academy and will be attending American University in the fall. She has been involved in the student fight to make schools safer since last summer.

Jordan Harb speaks about the creation of a new school safety task force
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
“Through this we hope to find ways to stop violence before it happens in the first place, because often the threat is not outside the school gates, but rather in the classroom sitting next to me,” said Arizona March For Our Lives leader Jordan Harb.

More Stories From KJZZ

If you like this story, Donate Now!