LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Government leaders from Kentucky and nearby states gathered Tuesday for a listening session on school safety organized by the federal government.
It is the second session organized by the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was formed by President Donald Trump after the February shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called the problem of school shootings a "national epidemic" and suggested that schoolchildren spend too much time watching violent media. He also lamented that the state’s legislature didn’t pass school safety legislation that he supported earlier this year.
The legislation would have made it easier to hire retired police officers to patrol schools and required electronic locks on exterior doors at schools.
During his remarks, Bevin held up his smart phone and called it a "very, very, very dangerous tool in the hands of young people." He said studies showed that nearly a quarter of teens say they are almost constantly on their tablet or smartphone, and Bevin said that leads to higher rates of anxiety, depression and impulse control problems.
"Culturally, we are feeding this epidemic, the desensitization of violence," he said at the meeting in Lexington.
Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker, who also attended the session, said she disagrees with Bevin on the point of smart phones and violent media as a precursor to school violence.
"The problem is adverse childhood experiences," Walker said. She said youngsters who have negative experiences at home, or see or experience violence at home leads to problems in the classroom.
"We have proven science that this child’s brain does not look like the brain of another child" that does not have problems at home, Walker said.
Bevin then clarified his remarks, saying Walker was "spot on."
"I think we’re saying the same thing. It isn’t the phone. I’m not suggesting we take phones away," he said.
Bevin said violent media and putting children on medication is "pouring gasoline on the fire."
Marshall County, Kentucky, Sheriff Kevin Byars, whose home county was the site of a deadly school shooting in January, said the shooting could have been more deadly if officers, students and staff hadn’t practiced active shooter training. He said funds should be focused on retrofitting school buildings to make them more secure. Two students died in the Jan. 23 shootings, and a 15-year-old classmate has been charged with their slayings.
Tennessee’s commissioner of Homeland Security, David Purkey, said his state is developing a smartphone app that allows students to make reports related to school safety and teen suicide.
During a public input session, several speakers said access to guns should be considered a contributing factor to school violence.
"Parents should never fear sending their children to school," said Cherie Dimar, president of the Kentucky Parent-Teacher Association. She urged universal background checks on the purchase of firearms and reinstituting a national assault weapons ban.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the chair of the commission, said during a Senate subcommittee hearing this year that the commission has not been charged with looking at guns in the context of school safety. DeVos, who has faced criticism for not including any Democrats or educators on the commission, did not attend Tuesday’s listening session.