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Ogden lawmaker urges passage of school security bill after hoax calls last year

By Carlene Coombs - Daily Herald | Feb 20, 2024
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Rep. Ryan Wilcox speaks during a press conference about school security at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.
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Police vehicles surround the outside of Ogden High School on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The school was the target of a "hoax related to school violence" that led to a temporary lockdown, according to the Ogden School District.

After 13 Utah schools faced false active-shooter calls last March, Utah lawmakers are working toward combating false reports and strengthening school security.

Provo and Spanish Fork high schools were two of the schools that received the hoax calls, leading to lockdowns and a heavy police response.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, has proposed two pieces of legislation this session addressing the issue. One proposes armed guards in schools through either arming school employees or hiring guards or resource officers and the other would increase penalties for making a false report or a threat toward a school.

During a press conference Tuesday, Wilcox, alongside parents of two Parkland, Florida, shooting victims and members of Utah’s School Security Task Force, urged the Legislature to pass House Bill 84, addressing school security.

“I wish this wasn’t why we were talking,” Wilcox said. “I can’t believe this is my assignment at this point. But there’s nothing more important if we don’t get it right. … We’ve gotten lucky so far. I don’t know how long we can.”

Wilcox’s bill would require an armed guard in every school, either by training and arming a school employee or hiring security if that school doesn’t already have a school resource officer. That bill has passed the House but is currently tabled in the Senate.

Max Schachter, the father of Alex Schachter, who was killed in the Parkland shooting, urged lawmakers and officials to prioritize school security.

“So I encourage Utah, just because you haven’t had a tragedy in this state, make sure that you take this seriously,” Schachter said. “It’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when and where the next school shooting will happen.”

Other provisions of Wilcox’s bill include minimum safety standards for public and private schools — such as limited entry points and internal door locks — installing panic buttons in classrooms and requiring school safety to be addressed when planning the construction of new schools. Annual building safety evaluations also would be required.

Lori Alhadeff, mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, who was killed in the Parkland mass shooting, specifically spoke in support of requiring panic buttons in schools.

Since the Parkland shooting, Alhadeff began a nonprofit to advocate for Alyssa’s Law, which requires classrooms to have a silent panic alarm connected to law enforcement.

“We want to see Alyssa’s Law passed here in Utah as a standard-level school safety protection in every school,” Alhadeff said.

Jess Anderson, Utah commissioner for public safety, said during the press conference that this school year, which started in August, there had been more than 121 violent threats against schools, 60 lockdowns and three interventions that stopped a school shooting.

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, who also sits on the state’s school security task force, asked for lawmakers to put money into school security.

“My ask would be that as we prioritize money, that we always think of safety first,” Smith said. “And this definitely is an area of safety for our kids that we need help.”

Another bill from Wilcox, H.B. 14, addresses penalties for threats and false reports. It requires a student who makes a false report to be suspended or expelled from school and makes threatening a school, intentionally or as a hoax, a felony. That bill has passed the House and still needs to pass the Senate.

In addition to last March’s hoax calls, Provo and Orem schools received violent threats against schools in May 2023, KSL-TV reported. Last December, various Utah, Idaho and Wyoming schools received hoax bomb threats, including schools in Weber County.


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