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Nebraska lawmakers say school safety will be priority

(MGN)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers are offering ideas and seeking studies in hope of improving safety in schools following more mass shootings throughout the country, but so far there isn't an indication of what kind of action the Legislature might take.

After a school shooting earlier this month in Texas that left 10 dead, and little more than three months after 17 people were killed at a high school in Florida, Nebraska senators acknowledge a need for action to keep students safe in the state. Some, such as Sen. Adam Morfeld, predicted school safety would become a priority of next year's legislative session.

"I think there is increasing awareness that this isn't going away anytime soon," said Morfeld, of Lincoln.

However, it's unclear what kind of legislation could emerge.

Morfeld said he is seeking information from high school students about school safety, and he may also look into mental health resources available to students. His review was inspired by the student organizers of Lincoln's "March for our Lives" gun control rally in March.

Some lawmakers have proposed studies of the issue, but Sen. Steve Halloran, of Hastings, has already come to the conclusion that the best way to protect kids is to arm more educators.

Halloran wants to reverse a move of identifying schools as gun-free zones, arguing that such designations make them targets for shooters who believe they'll see little resistance.

"Personally, I don't think we saw any problems like this until we made schools into gun-free zones," said Halloran, who plans to seek public comment about a plan to let extensively trained educators carry firearms in schools.

Halloran said he expects to see more support from rural communities because law enforcement response times tend to be longer, which could make those schools more vulnerable during an attack.

Other senators plan studies to examine changes that could protect students.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said she'll launch a study before next year's session to look at what roles school resource officers play across the state. The study could result in a bill that would impose statewide standards on such officers, whose duties now vary by district.

School resource officers, who are trained law officers, commonly carry firearms.

Although resource officers can have an important role in protecting students, Pansing Brooks said she also is concerned that more officers in schools could result in more students being charged with crimes in a phenomenon dubbed a "school-to-prison pipeline." Some studies have shown increased policing at school can push more students into the juvenile justice system and can have greater consequences for minority students.

Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln also plans a study, which he said would identify if there are any statewide solutions for school safety. Baker said he expects the best options could be offered at local levels.

It's a complicated problem without easy solutions, Baker said, and what's right for one school may not work for another, especially considering the different challenges that rural and urban communities face.

During his 37 years as superintendent for Norris Public Schools, Baker said his thoughts on school safety have continued to evolve as school violence increases throughout the country. Since January, news reports show Nebraska schools received at least 13 threats of violence resulting in three arrests.

"The issue needs to be front and center," Baker said. "I've been gratified this year by the young people saying, 'We are tired of this. We're tired of being scared and not knowing if we're going to get shot at school.' "

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