Donovan and Payne Chair Hearing on Strengthening School Safety
Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) this week hosted a hearing entitled Protecting Our Future: Addressing School Security Challenges In America. The event brought together senior officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DOE), Staten Island Community Education Council, New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, and other agencies to discuss efforts to enhance school security and emergency preparedness efforts.
Congressman Donovan said, “Securing our schools and ensuring a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment for our kids is a priority for me and my colleagues in Congress. Our nation has seen too many incidents of violence this year alone. We must do everything necessary to strengthen school security by identifying challenges, prioritizing violence prevention, and ensuring resources reach our communities. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix, but collaborative dialogues will allow us to find the most effective policy solutions and ideas.”
Congressman Payne said, “The federal government needs to do more to ensure children are safe in their classrooms and on their way to and from school. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel that the Federal Commission on School Safety will be researching the role of guns in school shootings. His testimony illustrates the continuing need for hearings that bring together stakeholders to explore ways federal, state, and local officials can help protect America’s school children.”
Witnesses included Robert Kolasky, DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary of the National Protection and Program Directorate’s Office of Infrastructure Protection, Jason Botel, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, Alan Hanson, DOJ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Michael Reilly, President of Staten Island Community Education Council 31.
The hearing focused on analyzing tools and protocols to create a more secure educational environment across the country. Much of the testimony centered around the importance of ensuring that school districts, state and local officials, and law enforcement officers have the resources needed to address the unique security challenges of their communities. Just as importantly, there was an emphasis placed on identifying students who need additional support and counseling. By helping vulnerable children and interceding earlier, we can prevent students from taking action to cause harm.
Other topics of discussion included the importance of implementing smart security protocols and streamlining information sharing. Michael Reilly, President of Staten Island Community Education Council 31, highlighted how certain security protocols can be mirrored after other successful programs. Reilly stated how implementing a similar FDNY master key access program to entrances in schools would alleviate concerns of how locked doors could prevent law enforcement and first responders from quickly entering buildings. The FDNY is able to access every elevator across the city through a “master key.”
DHS also highlighted its work to sponsor response/recovery tabletop exercises and workshops to assist school districts in planning to mitigate damage during and after an active shooter event, as well as create a guide on best practices for school-based threat assessments and violence prevention.
The hearing builds on Donovan’s work to address school safety and improve emergency preparedness efforts. Earlier this year, Donovan held a roundtable on Staten Island to allow federal security experts to share their thoughts on best practices and provide information to local education stakeholders on opportunities for collaboration and grant funding. He also voted to pass the Stop School Violence Act, which reauthorizes, modifies, and expands a Department of Justice program to award grants to state and local governments for improvements to school security.
Testimonies from each witness and a full recording of the hearing are available here.