School Safety Taskforce supporting behavioral health bills, split on armed employees

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State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler says the school safety taskforce will support state legislative bills addressing behavioral health issues, but is split over a proposal for armed personnel in schools.

Rep. Pat Heinert is working on a bill giving school districts the option to arm employees. When Heinert spoke with us in November, he said this would be a choice for schools. Baesler says on the issue of school safety, behavioral health and armed teachers all need to be discussed.

“If we aren't talking about that whole comprehensive issue of school safety, then we're being irresponsible in what our conversations are about,” said Baesler.

DPI didn't commit to a side, but said they're supporting schools districts talking with Heinert.

ND United president Nick Archuleta released a statement about the legislation:

“To the best of our knowledge, no bill has yet been filed by Representative Pat Heinert regarding allowing local school boards to arm individuals in public schools. Our understanding is that his bill will be identical to the bill that was defeated in the 65th Legislative Assembly. That bill, which was opposed by the North Dakota Council of Education Leaders, The North Dakota School Boards Association, and North Dakota United, was defeated after lengthy and thoughtful debate. As far as I can tell, nothing has happened in our state that would precipitate a change of heart on this important matter.

That said, ND United is absolutely committed to working to improve the safety of North Dakota’s schools. We have and will continue to whole heartedly support efforts to improve student access to behavioral and mental health. We will work to help increase the number of social workers in our elementary schools and counselors in our middle and high schools, so that children at risk can receive the services they need early in their academic careers.

In August of 2018, I was part of the School Safety Listening Sessions held in various cities across the state. At each stop, the great hue and cry was not for armed school personnel. The primary takeaway was that student trauma is a very real issue and children acting out, sometimes violently, is a very real concern.

While we support well trained, licensed law enforcement officers (known collectively as School Resource Officers) to be present in our public schools, ND United cannot support the legislation we opposed last session.”