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Panic buttons in school classrooms?

Local superintendents react to proposed SOS Act

  • Du Quoin Elementary School students return to school on Thursday after being out for six days due to weather and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Two U.S. Congressmen have introduced legislation that would offer grants to approved school systems to add panic buttons in classrooms.

    Du Quoin Elementary School students return to school on Thursday after being out for six days due to weather and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Two U.S. Congressmen have introduced legislation that would offer grants to approved school systems to add panic buttons in classrooms.
    Photo by Devan Vaughn

 
By Pete Spitler
pspitler@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 1/19/2018 5:49 PM

Variations of them are already in widespread use among the elderly, banks and convenience stores, but two U.S. Congressmen have introduced legislation to make panic buttons more available to local school systems.

In a Wednesday news release, Mike Bost (R-IL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) announced the Securing Our Schools (SOS) Act, which "would authorize the Department of Justice to offer grants to local school districts for buying and installing SOS buttons in classrooms."

Each one-year grant awarded would cover 75 percent of the cost of equipment purchase and installation (up to $200,000), while the school districts would provide the remaining 25 percent in matching funds.

"On the surface, anything that can assist schools in dealing with issues dealing with student safety is always welcome," said Du Quoin District 300 Superintendent Gary Kelly. "I think we need to continue to do more with prevention and dealing with issues preventing the individual intruders and hazards as best we can."

According to a copy of the bill included with the release, the SOS Act would establish a pilot program through the Department of Justice for the fiscal years 2018 through 2021.

The panic buttons, as stated in the bill, would allow for "immediate notification of emergency response personnel, law enforcement, or other appropriate officials (as determined by the local education agency) in the case of an emergency, including a health emergency, reports of an assailant armed with a weapon, an act of terrorism, a natural disaster, or other similar emergency, as determined by the local education agency."

The bill does not state how many grants were to be awarded during the pilot program and who would be in charge of deciding which districts receive them, but the U.S. Attorney General's office would be responsible for distributing them.

And it's the lack of key details that are giving Pinckneyville District 101 Superintendent Keith Hagene pause.

"We don't know the cost per unit, the cost per installation, so without the details, this may end up costing districts money and then how do you maintain it?" he said. "You put them in, they're obsolete within a year when the new technology comes through."

Hagene said his district has 33 classrooms that are utilized by students throughout the school day, raising concerns about how complex a panic alert system would be and how much it could potentially cost taxpayers.

"On the surface, great idea, anything we can do is worth looking at, but there's way too many unknowns," he said.

In the news release, both Bost and Schneider pointed to the technology as a possible deterrent and "front-line response" to potentially dangerous situations.

"Response time is vitally important during emergency situations, and the SOS Act provides life-saving technology to contact first responders immediately when these incidents take place at schools," Bost said. "This serves as both a deterrent from and front-line response to situations that place children and educators in harm's way."

"Every parent should have the confidence when they send their child off to school that he or she will return safely home," added Schneider in the same release.

The legislation, according to the release, is supported by the National Sheriffs Association and the National Education Association.