As school-safety panel seeks Utahns’ ideas, a key lawmaker vows that solutions won’t infringe on gun rights

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes talks about the new School Safety Commission during a news conference at the State Capitol, Thursday, March 1, 2018.

The newly minted Utah School Safety Commission is hosting a series of public hearings to collect input from communities on how to make Utah schools safer.

The 11-person volunteer commission, formed in early March in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shootings, plans to meet at Box Elder High School April 3 at 7 p.m., with more meetings to follow in the Morgan, Rich and Jordan school districts and elsewhere across the state.

Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, helped assemble the commission in hopes of creating what he said would be “a robust dialogue” involving elected officials, stakeholders, doctors, professors, parents, teachers and community members.

In a written statement about the commission, Kennedy, a family physician, said he was adamant his goal was not to encroach on the right to bear arms.

“Keeping children safe is a high priority for everyone,” Kennedy said. “With the rise of school threats, now more than ever is the time to rally together to come up with community solutions.

“Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, and allowing the government to infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” the legislator said, “we decided to organize the Utah School Safety Commission to develop real, actionable ideas to keep our children safe in school, while also protecting our freedoms.”

Gov. Gary Herbert has left open the possibility of convening a special session for lawmakers to act on the commission’s recommendations.

While the volunteer commission was intentionally kept small in size, there are still plenty of people who want to be a part of the discussion, said Terryl Warner, a member of the Utah Board of Education who sits on the commission. The hearings are a way to give everyone a chance to air concerns and float ideas.

“We’re just trying to keep working to gather information that will help kids feel safe and to look for some viable, good solutions,” Warner said.

Upcoming commission public hearings:

  • Morgan School District Building on April 10 at 7 p.m.

  • Rich School District Building on April 11 at 7 p.m.

  • Mount Jordan Middle School on April 12 at 7 p.m.

The commission also created an online portal where community members can submit ideas and offer feedback on policies the commission might consider. Recommendations submitted via the portal can fall under several categories of solutions, including those involving guns, law enforcement, media, mental health, school buildings and social components.

One of the commissions hurdles in putting changes in place is the one-size-fits-all pitfall, Warner said.

“What is needed in Rich might be vastly different than what is needed in Logan [City School District],” she said.

Warner said she hopes the commission will hear creative ideas such as one a Weber County parent brought to her attention recently.

Kids often prop doors open to get back into the schools when heading to seminary, for example. Several parents could volunteer in two- to three- hour periods to open the doors for returning children and greet them, she said.

“It wouldn’t cost any money other than background checks,” Warner said. “What a unique idea.”

There is no timeline associated with the commission’s hearings, Warner said, adding that more meetings in more school districts might be scheduled moving forward.

“After we review all of the information, we’ll have some pretty lively discussions, I’m sure,” Warner said. “The governor hasn’t said whether we’ll have a special session, but I’d like to come up with a few ideas to bring to the Legislature.”

Commission updates and additional meeting dates will be posted to the state Board of Education website, Warner said.