PROVIDENCE – Concerned over gun violence around the nation and a handful of “swatting” calls impacting schools locally, Rhode Island lawmakers want to establish a special legislative commission to decide whether safety protocols written into state law should be changed.
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee heard a resolution sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Boylan and nine other Democrats that would create a 20-member group to consider changes. The group would include lawmakers, union leaders, educational advocates, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, a school psychologist, high school students and others.
At present, state law generally requires schools to perform one “emergency egress drill” per month. However, only two drills per year are required to be lockdown drills.
Colleges and universities are required to perform four “drills or rapid dismissals” during the year, but the law does not explicitly state that any of those drills must be lockdowns.
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What would the commission evaluate?
Among the many questions the commission would ask: Should the number of required lockdown drills change? Should parents be notified in advance of drills occurring? Should the drills include “simulations” that imitate actual events?
Providence College is planning one such drill for Wednesday, in which Providence police will participate.
The college contacted media beforehand, cautioning that neighbors “may hear loud noises and/or may notice PPD and other public safety agencies responding to the PC campus.” People are asked to avoid the area.
The commission might also ask whether students should be allowed to evacuate during actual lockdowns. That’s no longer a question for some schools that have adopted what’s become known as ALICE training. The acronym stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. In short, the training teaches a more proactive approach compared to being limited to sheltering in a room. Participants are taught how to recognize threats, secure buildings, distract shooters and flee if possible. Scituate High School is already preparing to host a two-day training course in August, which will allow participants to become certified ALICE instructors.
RIACLU wants commission’s meetings to be public if possible
The resolution is seeing support from the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which cited the “highly publicized ‘swatting’ incidents that some schools were subjected to this past year.”
However, to ensure transparency, the RIACLU wants a provision added to the resolution that would require meetings to be public, unless they must be private for security reasons.
“The best way to respond to this issue deserves the thorough public consideration that this resolution seeks,” the organization said in written testimony. “In that regard, though, we want to emphasize the word ‘public.’”
Alice Adler, a Jamestown resident and volunteer for the Rhode Island chapter of Mom Demand Action, also signaled her support for the resolution, reflecting on the impact of swatting call on her daughter at North Kingstown High School.
“The first drill was very upsetting for her, and when the swatting incidents occurred this year it was even more upsetting,” Adler wrote in her testimony. “Imagine sitting in the dark against the wall holding your friend’s hand listening to sirens approaching from the distance. That’s when they knew it wasn’t a drill and fear really rushed in.”
Should the resolution pass, the commission would have until the end of February 2024 to report its findings to the House, and the commission would expire at the end of the following month.
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