Gov. Ducey announces Safe AZ Schools plan

Gov. Ducey announces Safe AZ Schools plan
Safe schools plan (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has released the details of his plan to increase school safety and security across the state.

The Safe Arizona Schools proposal calls for more money to be spent on mental and behavioral health resources for students, law enforcement presence closer to school campuses, and legal orders that could prevent people considered dangerous from accessing firearms.

After reading through the details, Pima County School's Superintendent Dustin Williams said he wants to know the details of where they money will go and how long it will last.

"Unfortunately we've kind of put ourselves in a hole, because we haven't funded our state well in education," said Williams. "So now you find us backed up in a corner and kind of a little bit of a panic mode as to what we do."

Williams said district leaders have discussed their needs. He said some more rural areas of Pima County have schools that still need basic security fences.

He appreciates the attention on mental health and behavioral health in Ducey's plan, but Williams cited a 1 counselor to 925 student ratio in Arizona. He said the national average is closer 225.

The governor's plan mentions money for teachers and administrators to train in Mental Health First Aid. The state would cover $2 million with another $6 million from a federal match, according to the proposal.

Williamson said he hopes the money is annual and not a one-time Band-Aid.

A tip line for reporting school threats, suggestions for law enforcement to handle administrative work near school campuses and certifying former officers to carry on school grounds are also part of the governor's plan.

Outside of the classroom, other objectives focus on access to firearms.

The governor proposed improving the state's computerized criminal history database, which is used for law enforcement agencies to submit crimes that would appear in background checks. Ducey's goal is to have those entries entered with 24 hours of when they happened.

The current requirement is 40 days, according to the Safe Arizona Schools plan.

It would increase the penalty for the parents of children who access a firearm, as well as make it impossible for anyone convicted of a dangerous felony to restore his or her gun rights.

Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP) is outlined in the governor's plan as a way to prevent people who are considered to be dangerous from accessing a firearm.

The STOP order explanation includes a reference to the January 8th shooting in Pima County.

Under Ducey's plan, only law enforcement can call for an emergency STOP order, but everyone from family and guardians to school staff and mental health professionals can ask for an ex-parte order. The orders are based on whether or not the person seems to be a danger to himself, herself or others.

An emergency stop would order a mental, behavior and drug screening. If a judge found reason for the person to require treatment, the order would last two weeks.

The subject of an ex-parte order is able to dispute any claims against him or her, but the order lasts 21 days if approved by a judge.

The same people who request stop orders are also allowed to request extensions. Anyone who is the subject of these orders can request they be quashed as well.

If a STOP order is issued, whoever is the focus of it must surrender any guns for the given time period. People living with that individual don't have to surrender anything as long as he or she signs an affidavit saying that the subject of the order will not have access to the firearms.

Anyone who might report a false STOP order could be charged with a felony, according to the summary provided by the governor's office.

Monday afternoon, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier stated on social media that he met with the governor about the Safe AZ Schools plan and that he supports it.

Statement from Arizona Charter Schools Association President and CEO Eileen Sigmund, released on Monday, March 19:

"Every Arizona student has a right to feel safe in school. That's why we commend Governor Doug Ducey for his leadership in tackling this difficult but urgent issue. The Governor's school-safety plan would increase investments in mental and behavioral-health resources; create a central tip line for potential threats; improve background checks; increase law enforcement presence on school grounds; and create a new tool to help keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous or disturbed individuals. We look forward to learning more details as this package of legislation is introduced, but the Governor's plan represents a thoughtful, significant step forward to improve school safety. On behalf of the approximately 550 public charter schools serving 185,000 students across Arizona, the Arizona Charter Schools Association stands ready to work with Governor Ducey, members of his staff and legislators to address this important issue."

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