The statewide task force charged with bolstering school safety unveiled initial recommendations Friday, but there’s still one big unknown — the price tag.
The 25-member School Safety Task Force settled on a list of bill draft requests, which will be forwarded to Gov. Brian Sandoval by August. Most fell under the umbrella of student well-being and physical infrastructure and, in the process, touched on prevention, crisis and recovery responses.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in all three of those categories,” state Superintendent Steve Canavero said. “It’s not just locks on the doors.”
Among the recommendations, which could be folded into bill draft requests:
- School safety drills should be held at different times of the day, giving students and staff the chance to be familiar with various routes and circumstances.
- The chief of the Division of Emergency Management would approve and, if needed, randomly audit school safety plans required to be filed with that office.
- Individual school safety teams would include representation from law enforcement, a middle or high school student when possible and either a school counselor, social worker or mental health professional.
- School district crisis plans should include strategies for recovery following any tragedy.
- Integrate social-emotional learning into the curriculum of all state schools to equip students with skills such as managing their emotions, building strong relationships, problem-solving and asking for help when needed.
- Establish recommended ratios for school-based mental-health providers such as counselors, psychologists and social workers, and require schools to develop an improvement plan to reach those ratios within 15 years.
- Better leverage Medicaid funding to provide mental-health services to Nevada students.
- Expand the jurisdiction of school police officers to give them leeway to investigate school-related matters beyond the campus and enforce traffic violations and ordinances within the vicinity of schools.
- Require the Nevada Department of Education to create a model plan that would include how to handle threat assessments and how to respond to disaster from a behavioral health standpoint. The state should also mandate training exercises with various agencies as well as related professional development for staff.
- Add a full-time staff position to help administer the threat-reporting portal known as “Safe Voice.”
- Monitor the disproportionality of school discipline by requiring that data, broken down by race and ethnicity, be reported annually.
The task force also suggested creating categorical funding, which would be devoted to increasing the number of school police officers and making safety-minded physical upgrades to schools. It’s unclear how much money would be set aside for those categorical funds, though.
State Superintendent Steve Canavero, who is part of the physical infrastructure working group, said they are simply recommendations, but it would be up to the governor to determine how and where to carve out money in his upcoming budget.
During the meeting, however, committee members suggested that reaching better ratios of mental-health providers in schools would involve doubling the current $11 million state funding. That’s a small indication of the dollar-power likely needed to see some of these recommendations come to fruition.
Even if Sandoval does earmark significant state funds for school-safety needs, it won’t be binding given his status as a termed-out governor. His successor — likely either Republican Adam Laxalt, the state’s attorney general, or Democrat Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission — could change the proposed budget after taking office in January.
Not all the task force requests would require a legislative stamp of approval. Canavero pointed to the Medicaid-related recommendation as an example.
“Nevada’s a state that hasn’t built an infrastructure to really claim Medicaid funding that we would otherwise be eligible to claim,” he said. “We’ve been trying to explore different provider types and how to do it in a way that’s compliant in Medicaid.”
Dale Erquiaga, who chairs the task force, will assemble the agreed-upon initial recommendations and submit them to Sandoval by Aug. 1. But that’s only the first half of the group’s work. The task force must submit a final report with no more than 10 recommendations to the governor by Nov. 30.
Sandoval convened school district superintendents shortly after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting to discuss the growing school-safety concern. He then issued an executive order creating the task force to work on tackling the problem, which he has identified as one of his key priorities this final year in office.
Meanwhile, Laxalt, who’s running for governor, held a school-safety summit two days after Sandoval’s meeting with superintendents. Laxalt released a report late last month, outlining recommendations emerging from that gathering.
The task force only directly mentioned one of the recommendations issued in Laxalt’s report — strengthening relationships between school principals and police while providing law enforcement access to schools’ emergency plans.