Strong support and smooth sailing through the Georgia Legislature failed to save a key piece of school safety legislation from Gov. Brian Kemp’s veto.

In rejecting Senate Bill 15, known as the “Keeping Georgia Schools Safe Act,” Kemp last month bowed to pressure from school superintendents, advocacy groups and educators across the state who were concerned about the over-reaching provisions of the bill.

The governor noted SB 15, sponsored by Sen. John Albers (R-56th District), was a “well intentioned piece of legislation” but could create operational and financial issues for local school districts.

In a statement issued at the time of the veto, Kemp wrote “[Opponents] agree this legislation undermines local control, generates an unfunded mandate for school safety coordinators, and places a ministerial duty on school administrators, increasing their exposure to legal liability.

Albers, who represents North Fulton and Cherokee County, challenged those assertions, noting the provisions in the bill were crafted after months of work from legislators, students, teachers, parents, first responders and state agency leaders.

“I am confident we had a sound piece of legislation with broad support to help facilitate communications, crisis management and prevention through new and existing channels,” said Albers, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter.

He vowed to bring back SB 15 to the General Assembly next year, saying the issue of school safety remains a primary concern of the public.

“I believe this was one of the most important legislative measures to my constituents and Georgians in general,” said Albers. “I pray this issue will be the number one priority of the next legislative session [and] I will continue to work tirelessly to protect our schools again next year.” 

Albers introduced the legislation in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shootings in February 2018. The bill includes recommendations from the Senate Study Committee on School Safety, and relies more on law enforcement methods to mitigate school-based threats, including linking schools with the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center. This is the state’s “fusion center” where terrorism data and other threat-based information is shared among law enforcement entities.

Other provisions of SB15 include the establishment of a school safety threat task force, and designating a school safety coordinator charged with reporting “reasonable suspicion” of violent criminal activity to law enforcement agency. It also allows the reporting of any reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity.

In his veto statement, Kemp noted every public school in the state will receive $30,000 to use for school safety measures that best fit their situation as opposed to mandates from the state.

Mandatory Recess bill also vetoed

Local control was also the reason cited for Kemp’s veto of House Bill 83, known as the “mandatory recess act”. The legislation would have required elementary schools to schedule daily recess for students in K-5 beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, with some exceptions.

In explaining the veto, Kemp noted local boards of education hold the authority for recess policies, and those decisions are based on local situations which vary from district to district.

“House Bill 83 would dramatically restrict this local control, stripping long-held authority from school boards,” Kemp wrote. “While I support expanded recess opportunities for Georgia’s students, I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education.”

The interest surrounding recess from Georgia lawmakers over the past few years has prompted many school districts to proactively create recess policies. In Fulton County, the Board of Education implemented policy in the 2018-19 school year mandating recess in elementary schools.

“Most Fulton County Elementary Schools now have 30 minutes of uninterrupted recess time on non-physical education days in accordance with Fulton Schools policy,” noted Brian Noyes, communications director for Fulton Schools.

He noted Fulton Schools has no plans to revisit the district’s mandatory recess policies, regardless of the veto of the state recess bill.

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