The Newnan Times-Herald

Local

Kemp vetoes recess, school safety bills


  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • May. 16, 2019 - 8:13 AM

This story has been updated to include information from the Coweta County School System. 

Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed several pieces of legislation Friday, including bills relating to school recess and school security.

House Bill 83 would have required all elementary schools to offer recess to students each day.

The bill would have required local boards of education to implement formal policies regarding recess. The board policies would have made it mandatory to schedule recesses that provide breaks between academic instruction periods for both elementary and middle school students.

Board policies also would have been required to guarantee that recess could not be withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons.  A 30-minute break was recommended, but not required.

Current Coweta County Board of Education policy guarantees elementary school students 15 minutes of recess each day. Principals regulate the timing and location of breaks at each school, according to school system spokesman Dean Jackson. Jackson said principals work with school- and system-level staff to ensure the breaks are scheduled to support – and not interfere with – academic learning.

With prior notice, Coweta school policy allows recess to be withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons, as long as that decision is consistent with a student’s individual education or behavioral plan.

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, R-Stockbridge, has been pushing the recess bill for three years. Last year’s version, which made a 30-minute recess mandatory, narrowly missed final passage on the last day of the Georgia General Assembly session.

In his veto statement, Kemp said the bill would have dramatically restricted local control.

“While I support expanded recess opportunities for Georgia’s students, I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education,” Kemp wrote. “This legislation would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification."

Kemp: School safety bill well-intentioned, but undermines local control

Kemp’s reasoning was similar for vetoing Senate Bill 15, which sought to put uniform guidelines in place for all Georgia schools.

Among its requirements were:

“Site threat assessment” at each school by Jan. 1, 2121, and every five years afterward, performed by government agencies or certified agencies/entities

Safety drills on mass casualty incidents at least once a year at every school

Annual public reports on school safety projects, initiatives and activities, issued by school boards

A safety coordinator at each school who would be required to report reasonable suspicion of violent criminal activity to local law enforcement

Communication of threats, warnings and developing situations at schools, which would require the Georgia Department of Education to work with state and local entities to track and share information.

Creation and maintenance of a smartphone app by the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which would allow people to report suspicious, unsafe or unlawful activity

“Senate Bill 15 is a well-intentioned piece of legislation, but many school superintendents, non-partisan advocacy groups and educators across Georgia have expressed concern over its provisions,” Kemp wrote in his veto statement. “These stakeholders agree that this legislation undermines local control, generates an unfunded mandate for school safety coordinators and places a ministerial duty on school administrators, increasing their exposure to legal liability."

The governor pointed out that the newly approved state budget includes $69 million in school security grants for Georgia schools and allows local leaders to decide how to use that funding.

“Moving forward, it is important for local leaders to first have an opportunity to utilize state grant funding before imposing additional requirements,” Kemp wrote.

Jackson said the Coweta County School System, its administrators and employees already focus on student and school safety “extensively.”

“I think our school system, broadly speaking, agrees with what the legislature was trying to get at here,” Jackson said.

But Jackson said there are details in the vetoed bill that don’t match local practices, including requiring every school to have a dedicated safety coordinator.

"We don’t do that explicitly, but our school principals are responsible for the safety of their campuses and for leading safety reviews and drills,” he said. “And our school system has a safety coordinator who reviews all of this at the system level.”

Coweta County’s school safety plans are constantly reviewed and updated, Jackson said, with extensive input from local and state law enforcement personnel. Plans are submitted to local law enforcement and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency for review.

The school system’s safety plans and training already cover the areas mentioned in the ‘site threat assessment,” Jackson said, and the system also focuses on other areas of school safety. That includes the actual design of school buildings and school resource officers assigned to every Coweta school.