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Reynolds taps federal funds for initiative to prevent school shootings

Gov. Kim Reynolds announces efforts to prevent school shootings in Iowa with Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
Grant Gerlock
Gov. Kim Reynolds announces efforts to prevent school shootings in Iowa with Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens on Tuesday

Gov. Kim Reynolds will use federal pandemic recovery funding to create a new school safety bureau at the Iowa Department of Public Safety and to support a set of initiatives aimed at assessing and improving school safety.

Reynolds announced Tuesday she will put $100 million dollars into the program with the goal of preventing shootings at Iowa’s public and private K-12 schools.

“Every family should be able to confidently send their children to school knowing that they will be safe,” Reynolds said.

Three-quarters of the money will go toward grants of up to $50,000 to improve safeguards taken at individual school buildings. Reynolds said DPS will make vulnerability assessments and active shooter training available for all schools that request it.

The plans are not new, she said, but took on greater urgency after the attack in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

“I think you see that across the country,” Reynolds said. “There’s a sense of urgency just with the increased acts of violence we see taking place every single day.”

Funding for the new bureau and safety program will come from money sent to states by Congress through the American Rescue Plan and federal legislation that provided COVID-relief for schools.

Reynolds’ announcement also comes as Congress considers possible gun legislation in response to a wave of mass shootings. Instead of dealing with background checks or age limits for gun ownership, Reynolds said her approach is focused on threat response and mental health.

“The debate on guns will continue, but until we consider the lethal weapon in these events is the person who picks up the gun and turns it against another, we risk overlooking other solutions that directly address the cause of this violence and work to reverse its course,” she said.

The funding announced Tuesday includes $4.5 million to place emergency radios in classrooms, which Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said are a more reliable way for teachers and school officials to communicate with law enforcement if a shooting happens.

It also puts $1.5 million into a software application that would be used to identify threats on social media and gaming platforms. It would also serve as a statewide system to anonymously report potential threats.

“These school shooting events just don’t know geographical boundaries. A lot of these threats may come up through gaming platforms where a kid from one side of the state is talking to a kid from another side of the state,” Bayens said, adding that schools that have a reporting system in place can keep it. “No one is asking them to shelve their current product. However, this will be a statewide platform.”

Bayens said the app design will go through a competitive bidding process, but DPS intends to have it available by the start of the school year.

DPS will also be hiring nine people, including special agents, criminal intelligence analysts and communications specialists, to provide training and advise schools on their response plans. That group would also be in place by the start of the school year, Reynolds said.

Federal funding will get the bureau up and running and keep it funded through 2026. Reynolds said she is talking with legislative leaders about providing the estimated $1.5 million per year that would be needed after 2026 to keep the group going.

Schools are already required to have response plans in place, and Iowa Department of Education director Ann Lebo said all districts must provide documentation to the state each year demonstrating how they meet state standards for preparedness.

Lebo said the department will survey schools to find out what more they want or need from the state to prevent school shootings and to be prepared when one happens.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa