A closer look at the White House's school safety plan

President Donald Trump this week unveiled a four-pronged plan of defense against future school shootings, focusing on “hardening” schools, improving background checks, increasing access to mental health services and examining the impact of future policy proposals on curbing school violence.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe community surrounded by a loving family and to have a future filled with opportunity and with hope,” Trump said Monday of the new initiatives.

The White House’s plan drew plenty of criticism from gun control advocates led astray by the president’s early support for banning rifle sales to adults under 21. Instead, the administration will assemble a Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which will study and make recommendations for a range of policy proposals including:

  • placing age restrictions on gun purchases;
  • entertainment rating systems for violent video games, movies and television;
  • impacts of press coverage of mass shootings;
  • strategies to enhance youth character development and a “culture of connectedness;”
  • repeal “Rethink School Discipline” policies;
  • best security practices for school buildings;
  • coordination of federal resources focused on preventing or mitigating an active shooter situation;
  • opportunities to improve access to mental health treatment;
  • best practices for school-based threat assessment and violence prevention strategies;
  • effectiveness and appropriateness of psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth;
  • and, ensuring that findings are sufficiently supported by existing and additional federal, state, and local funding sources.

The administration’s plan will strengthen background checks through support of the Fix NICS bill pending in Congress. The bipartisan effort, co-sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, will incentivize states and federal agencies to upload disqualifying records into the databases feeding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders — under the administration’s plan — will appear in NICS and exist nationwide, allowing law enforcement to remove firearms from dangerous individuals. State will receive technical assistance from the Department of Justice to “carefully tailor” each statute to “ensure the due process rights of law-abiding citizens are protected.”

Trump also called for passage of the STOP School Violence Act, a grant-based program providing for training, technology and technical assistance to help schools identify and prevent violence. He encouraged Congress provide a funding boost in the 2018 federal budget to “jump start implementation” of the program in middle and high schools across the country.

The administration will also audit the FBI’s tip line in search of areas for improvement. Meanwhile the Department of Justice will provide emergency crisis training to local law enforcement agencies.

Trump’s plan to harden schools prioritizes DOJ resources to train armed school personnel on a voluntary basis. The administration will also encourage military veterans to transition into careers in public education, promote a federal, state and local government campaign of “See Something, Say Something” to encourage reporting of suspicious activity, and ask state Attorneys general to audit school districts for emergency preparedness compliance.

The final element of the White House plan addresses mental health treatment. The president pushed for greater integration of mental health services with primary care and family services, as well as programs with options for court-ordered treatment. He also called for regulatory reviews, including a fresh look at Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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