Campus safety systems assessed

KU, Lawrence public schools improving communications

Education and government leaders need to develop systems to deal with mental illness and recognize possible threats, a task force on campus and school safety said Thursday.

The panel of 27 attorneys general, including Kansas’ Paul Morrison, made the recommendations about school and campus safety in response to the April shootings at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 students and himself.

Lawrence school and university officials said they already were carrying out many of the suggestions that applied to them.

“It’s top of mind. We had a good record in terms of safety already,” said Todd Cohen, a Kansas University spokesman. “Virginia Tech was an extreme case, but it put a light on some things that may need further attention.”

Morrison said the report was meant to stimulate dialogue among policymakers and others. It touched on several issues, including:

¢ Establishing emergency notification systems for colleges and schools.

¢ Making sure state and federal authorities share available information about firearms purchases.

¢ Assessing risky behavior that could lead to violence.

Cohen said KU has worked in recent months to improve its emergency communication system. More than 10,000 students, faculty and staff have signed up for an emergency text-messaging system.

But university leaders would not confirm or deny Thursday whether the system was operational yet.

In Lawrence public schools, administrators are working on a notification system that will alert parents at home, work or on their cell phones. Board members authorized the new system after the Virginia Tech massacre and countywide bomb threats happened in the same week in April.

The system should be operational later this semester, officials said.

“We’ve been very proactive in our district, and a lot of things already are in place,” said Rick Gammill, director of special operations, safety and transportation for Lawrence public schools.

Gammill said the district already had an emergency plan, which is audited annually for each school. The district also has a bullying policy that covers “cyberbullying,” and the city provides school-resource officers in high schools and junior high schools.

More discussion is expected at the federal and state levels, including examination of privacy laws and how information such as mental health records can be legally shared.

State leaders said Kansas is one of 23 states that provides some health information – such as a court decision declaring someone dangerous – to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That information could prevent some gun purchases.

Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, who has worked on Kansas gun legislation, said federal leaders have praised the state’s firearms regulations.

“Once again we’ve got model legislation for the rest of the country to look at,” Journey said.