State Rep. Hensley Talks School Safety With DEMA At Constituent Breakfast

by Super User

Delaware State Representative Kevin Hensley held his monthly constituent breakfast on Tuesday, March 13 at the Hearth Restaurant in Odessa. The main topic was school safety and Rep. Hensley welcomed A.J. Shaw of the Delaware Emergency Management Association.

Shaw addressed the attendees by mentioning what has happened since the state passed their School Safety Act in 2012. He cited five incidents that have happened at Delaware state schools in the past year, including last year’s lockdown at Brick Mill Elementary in Middletown due to the holed-up suspect in the shooting death of Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard of the Delaware State Police. Shaw said their major issue is risk assessment of schools, especially older schools where renovations are needed to handle today’s security concerns. Shaw said it is important for DEMA to get input from teachers and staff at the schools and to plan for emergency evacuations or lockdowns. He said that they work with the state Department of Education and various school resource officers, but that each school district has different plans.

Shaw then opened the discussion to questions and in response to asking about arming teachers, Shaw said that in order to do this would require legislative changes at the state level especially since schools are currently gun free zones. Shaw said he sees both pros and cons to the idea with questions about what do you want teachers to do in specific situations. If you allow teachers with concealed permits, do you publicize it or not? Shaw said if some schools have teachers with concealed carry permits, by publicizing it are you putting schools without concealed carry in jeopardy? One resident mentioned she has taken self-defense training which changes the individual mindset of not being a victim and asked if teachers should undergo such training. Shaw said he agreed with the mindset change and asked if teachers undergo mandatory training, how much training should they go through?

In answer to a question about what is the state not doing on the front end to combat the problem of school violence, Shaw said that we need to have more mental health professionals in the schools. He said that we all need to be more proactive that if you see something, say something. He cited what he felt were breakdowns with this in the recent school shooting case in Florida. In response to a question about metal detectors in schools, Shaw said that his biggest concern is the amount of time it would take to get students and staff through them. In answer to a comment that anyone, at anytime can go off, Shaw said that most school security issues involve custody issues among separated parents. When asked about the ability to identify callers of bomb threats, Shaw cited years ago getting robotic calls from overseas. He asked, what is the safest thing to do during a bomb threat: do you evacuate the school and possibly send the children into a trap or do you do a quick sweep of the school before setting off the alarm? Finally, in answer to a question about funding, Shaw said that DEMA doesn’t actually spend the money but getting the state funding is a huge concern.

Rep. Hensley said right now most of the state legislation deals with providing security for new schools but does nothing for older schools that have to be redesigned for modern safety concerns. Rep. Hensley also said he likes the idea of having basic standardized designs for all state schools and for school systems to use the funds that would otherwise go into school design, be used instead for safety. He also said individual school systems do not like this idea.

After the school safety discussion, Rep. Hensley talked about other local concerns, mostly dealing with road and street construction. He cited the upcoming redesign of the Shallcross Lake Bridge that will both widen and raise the bridge. He also cited intersection improvements for Shannon Cove and the upcoming Rt. 299 widening project in Middletown that is scheduled to start after the Rt. 301 project is opened in December, 2018.  He said he’s working on resurfacing specific roads such as at Dickenson Farms and told the attendees to let him know if a road near them needs work. He said he is also able to get signage for specific neighborhoods.

Land development expert Dave Carter from the University of Delaware talked about New Castle County not following through on enforcing developers to follow through on their requirements and asked if the wrong people are in place to enforce these regulations and Rep. Hensley said in some cases, he feels the answer is yes. Both Carter and Hensley mentioned the upcoming town hall with county executive Matt Meyer at the Odessa Fire Hall on Thursday evening at 5:30pm and urged residents to come and ask questions.   

Photo credits of Kevin Hensley and A.J. Shaw: Keith Thompson

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