House committee advances school guardian, mental health bill

March 27, 2024 | 12:13 am

Updated March 26, 2024 | 9:46 pm

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, speaks on Senate Bill 2 – a sweeping school safety measure – before the House Education Committee on Tuesday. | Photo by KY LRC

A bill that would allow a public school guardian program and that seeks to improve students’ mental health is one step closer to final passage.

The House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 2 on Tuesday. Primary sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the legislation builds on school safety measures from previous years.

“A lot of times we talk about mental health, but we can’t wrap our hands around what actually is occurring right now within our school walls,” Wise said.

SB 2 would direct schools to include school psychologists, social workers, school resource officers (SROs), and other mental health service providers on trauma-informed teams. This is in addition to school administrators, counselors, family resource and youth service coordinators, school nurses, and other district personnel, Wise said.

The bill would direct the trauma-informed teams to help support students impacted by trauma, identify ways to respond to mental health issues, and build resiliency and wellness in all students. These teams would also be required to compile an annual report.

SB 2 would also require two evidence-based suicide prevention lessons each school year for all students in 6th through 12th grade. Teachers would also be required to undergo suicide prevention training beginning at the 4th-grade level.

As for the safety aspect of the legislation, SB 2 would allow school districts to employ retired law enforcement and honorably discharged, retired military veterans as armed guardians at public schools.

The bill is not a mandate, and the guardians would not have arresting authority, Wise said. The guardians would also have to be within 5 years of retirement and undergo a vetting and training process.

Committee chair James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he worked with Wise on strengthening the qualified immunity provision in the legislation. The guardians would have the same criminal and civil immunity as other law enforcement in the state. School boards would also be protected.

During discussion of SB 2, Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, proposed a committee amendment to allow schools to add a licensed pastoral counselor to the trauma-informed team. He said with the statewide shortage of counselors and psychologists, this would give schools another option.

Wise told the committee he has “no qualms” about the amendment.

“We’ve got young people that need assistance and help,” he said.

Abby Piper, a representative of the Kentucky School Counselors Association, testified against the amendment. But she said she supports the other mental health provisions in the legislation.

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, made a motion to table the amendment. She said she finds the amendment “gravely concerning.” Her motion failed.

The committee approved Calloway’s committee amendment to SB 2.

Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, said she’s in favor of Calloway’s amendment.

“I really appreciate this and an opportunity to keep our kids safe and to get to some of the root of our issues and concerns for our kiddos,” she said. “I’m a very strong ‘yes.’”

After approving Calloway’s amendment, the committee continued to discuss the legislation.

Bojanowski asked Wise why schools need guardians when there are SROs. Wise said the guardians are for districts that don’t have enough SROs or are in rural areas.

“The guardians are a stop-gap measure,” Wise said.

The House Education Committee approved SB 2 by a 14-3 vote.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said while she supports the mental health care portions of the legislation, she has concerns with the guardians and the pastoral counselor provisions of the bill.

“I’m very emotional about voting ‘no’ on this because there’s so much good in it,” Willner said. “We’ve doubled up on the suicide prevention training. That’s going to save lives. There’s no question, so I’m happy that piece is going to pass.”

SB 2 now goes before the full House for consideration.

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

March 27, 2024 | 12:13 am

Share this Article

Other articles you may like