Arizona schools chief to develop school safety plans

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PHOENIX (AP) — The head of public schools in Arizona said Monday she'll create a task force on preventing violence on campuses after the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to act on the issue.

Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman intends to convene students, law-enforcement, mental health experts, school counselors and others to develop a model school-safety plan they can urge districts to adopt.

The announcement was made at the state Capitol with Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and students from March For Our Lives Arizona, an activist group that emerged following last year's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

They described the crafting of a comprehensive look at school safety that goes beyond keeping buildings secure by seeking to identify and help students experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns.

"Armed guards can sometimes be useful when the first shots are fired, but we often forget that counselors, support systems and other preventative measures can keep violence from happening in the first place," said Jordan Harb, an 18-year-old senior at Mountain View High School in Mesa and a leader of March For Our Lives Arizona.

The students had supported failed legislation that would have created the task force and required school districts to adopt its recommendations.

Hoffman said schools sometimes resist changes due to concerns about costs, but she hopes they can be persuaded to adopt the strategy created by the task force.

"We want to do everything we can with our staff to be there supporting them and helping them implement those changes," Hoffman said.

With one school counselor for every 905 students, Arizona has by far the worst ratio in the nation, according to the American School Counselor Association. The national average is 455.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has proposed boosting funding for counselors and police officers on campus but has not reached a budget agreement with lawmakers. Last year, the GOP-led Legislature did not take action on an ambitious school-safety plan proposed by Ducey.

Harb said the students haven't given up on a gun-control measures they pushed in the past but are focused on proposals more likely to find success.

"There are many solutions to the problem of violence in our schools that include making it harder for people who are clearly dangerous to get things that maximize their fatalities like weapons," Harb said. "It also includes mental health support systems. We're simply picking our battles."

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