Bill that would allow armed guards in public schools advances Skip to content

Bill that would allow armed guards in public schools advances

An amendment to the bill also allows schools to hire pastoral counselors as part of their trauma-informed care team.

3 min read

The Kentucky House Education Committee has voted to allow armed guards to fill in for school resource officers in public schools despite legislative opposition to last-minute changes to the proposal. 

After more than an hour of debate, the committee voted 14-3 to approve the legislation in Senate Bill 2. All “no” votes were from Democrats. 

Approval of SB 2 came after mostly Democrat lawmakers raised objections to an amendment to allow religious “licensed pastoral counselors” to serve on trauma-informed care teams in schools.  Rep. Josh Calloway (R-Irvington) is the sponsor of the amendment.

One Democrat opposing the change was Rep. Lisa Willner, a clinical psychologist from Louisville. She said school counselors are certified to bill for Medicaid because of their qualifications. Licensed pastoral counselors – licensed by the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Pastoral Counselors – don’t have the same qualifications, said Willner.

“They don’t have the training. They don’t have the scope of practice that the others do,” said Willner.

Current Kentucky law defines a licensed pastoral counselor as an ordained minister of “denominational equivalent” who has a master of divinity degree or has completed an advanced degree in pastoral counseling or its equivalent, is licensed by the state, and engages in pastoral counseling. 

Pastoral counseling is defined in current law as “the practice of pastoral counseling at an advanced level, equivalent to the standards of practice set by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors for the “fellow” level, that involves integrating spiritual resources with insights from the behavioral sciences.” 

The Kentucky School Counselors Association testified that it does not support the change, but that it does support Senate Bill 2 as proposed. The amendment, however, ultimately passed 13-3 along party lines. 

Senate Bill 2 sponsor Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) told the committee the bill is a “stop gap measure” for school districts struggling to hire school resource officers or SROs – active law enforcement trained to work with youth and provide school security. Current Kentucky law requires every school campus to have an SRO, although many districts don’t have the resources to comply. 

Armed guards employed by districts to compensate for the shortage would have to be either retired law enforcement or honorably discharged veterans. They would have to successfully pass a background check and have at least 160 hours of training in firearms, active shooter response and more. They would not, Wise said, be able to make arrests. 

“I would hope that we all want what’s best for a school that doesn’t have any coverage at all,” Wise told the committee.

SB 2 would allow the guards – defined as “guardians” in the bill – to be armed with a firearm on school property. A local board of education could hire as many guardians as they consider “necessary for the safety and security of its schools.” 

Enhanced suicide prevention training would also be part of SB 2. School district employees working with students in grades 4-12 would be required to have at least one hour of evidence-based suicide prevention training (including risk factors and warning signs)  each school year to help them recognize mental illness. 

Rep. Josie Raymond (D-Louisville), one of the three voting against the bill, asked Wise if he would be open to creating a shadowing program for youth to get to know the guardians. Unlike SROs, Raymond said, guardians are unlikely to have an established rapport with students. 

It was one of a few final questions House Committee chair Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville) said he would allow Raymond to ask on the bill. Raymond, who said she had several questions left, was visibly frustrated. 

“Mr. Chairman, this is a critical issue. We’re talking about putting guns and strangers in my kids’ school, and we need a few more minutes to talk about it,” she told Tipton. 

Raymond – who is not running for reelection this year – said evidence shows that armed guards are not a deterrent to school violence. That corroborates with a 2021 U.S. Department of Justice study that says, “data suggest no association between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence in these cases.” 

“Here in Kentucky, we don’t have guardians, and we didn’t have a school shooting yesterday, and we didn’t have one the day before,” said Raymond. “I don’t know how strong of a metric that is. We know that armed officers have not been a deterrent across the country.”

Wise said “the metric of success” is giving school districts more options. 

“Probably your school district is not going to approve of guardians,” Wise said, referring to the Jefferson County Public School district. “But let’s think about the counties in rural Kentucky that would do anything to have protection and safety of their children.”

Written by Rebecca Hanchett. Cross-posted from Link NKY.

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