Ybarra pitches $21 million school security plan


Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra plans to ask lawmakers for almost $21 million next year to pay for a school safety initiative.

The bulk of the spending in the Keep Idaho Students Safe, or KISS, initiative, would be about $18.7 million to provide $25,000 in security grant funding plus $500 for training for each of the 732 student-occupied school buildings in Idaho. The goal, Ybarra said in a news release, would be to ensure every school in Idaho can have a trained security presence, be it school resource officers, retired military or law enforcement personnel or private security.

“Having trusted security people available is of great importance to the students I’ve talked to,” Ybarra said in a statement. “When I attend non-school public events across the state, there is generally a security presence, and Idaho students deserve the same sense of safety in their schools.”

The state Department of Education also is looking to design a three-credit, 45-hour course focused on protecting students and addressing risky behaviors, Ybarra said. She said the course would be required for teacher and administrator recertification, so every five years, and would be offered 25 times a year statewide. It would focus on areas such as bullying and harassment prevention, fostering a positive school climate, social and emotional learning, preventing suicide, sexual assault, human trafficking, drug and alcohol use and dating violence, the impact of social media on student interactions and behavioral threat assessment.

Ybarra plans to ask lawmakers for $2 million to launch the program, which would be designed by experts in the various subject areas.

The last piece of the initiativewould be $117,000 to pay for a new statewide crisis communications counselor position, which would be part of the state Department of Education and would serve as the point of contact for school counselors who need help addressing student social and emotional issues.

The Legislature has already set the public schools budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year and is expected to adjourn later this month. Ybarra said she would ask for money for KISS when lawmakers return to Boise for the 2019 session. This would mean, if lawmakers and the next governor agree to her plan, the funding would be available starting in the second half of the 2018-2019 school year. Ybarra is up for re-election this year, facing Jeff Dillon in the Republican primary in May and then either Democrat Allen Humble or Cindy Wilson, whoever wins the Democratic primary, in November.

Schools across the country saw a massive surge in threats in the couple of weeks after 17 people were murdered by a school shooter in Parkland, Fla., including several threats in eastern Idaho. The Legislature is taking up a bill this year, co-sponsored by Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, that would make it a misdemeanor to threaten a school, or a felony if the person making the threat is found in possession of a weapon.

The proposal’s supporters say it is needed because, under current law, prosecutors can’t charge such threats when they are made off-campus or via social media. That bill passed the House last week and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.