School safety bill advocates for prevention of future tragedies

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Keeping our kids safe in schools – it’s an issue many parents, teachers and leaders think about every day. A Georgia Congressman is pushing a plan in hopes of preventing tragedies – like school shootings, or even suicide. Washington Correspondent Alana Austin reports on a national prevention plan being taken up on Capitol Hill.

File image: Parents reunite with their children outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida after the mass shooting February 14, 2018. A gunman murdered 17 students and staff and injured 17 victims on school grounds. (Source: CNN)

From Parkland, Florida, to Virginia Tech, there’s a growing movement for officials to intervene before another school shooting.

“It’s a national epidemic and we’ve got to do something to have safe schools,” said Chip Reese, Columbus State University Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, Reese spearheaded a program to prevent a similar crisis. The system brings together experts in mental health, academic life and law enforcement to help a struggling student or staff member.

“I’ve had students tell me later on, after the fact, that they were actually contemplating suicide,” explained Reese. “And if we hadn’t have gotten to them, that they would have gone through with it.”

Georgia Republican Congressman Drew Ferguson was inspired by this program, launched in his district. So he and several Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would set up a standard set of guidelines in school around the country.

“If we can intervene early, and we can provide resources, then that young man or that young woman has a real opportunity to succeed in life and that’s what we want for our fellow Americans,” said Ferguson.

Philip Schrentrup, whose daughter Carmen was killed in the Parkland school shooting, supports this bill. But, he thinks Congress should also tweak health care and education privacy so school officials can more easily communicate about a potentially dangerous situation.

“We need to go to the next step that says you’re not going to get in trouble for sharing the information that you have that’s relevant as we try to get students help,” said Schrentrup.

The bill is currently in the Energy and Commerce committee.

The Columbus State University crisis intervention team is also designed to respond on a case-by-case basis to each person in need. Reese says that means there are different resources – like counseling or academic assistance – that might be helpful in different situations.

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