Gun violence prevention funding has been proposed for schools, but it may not be enough

 A code red lockdown took place at Patrick Henry High School on February 27 after a person thought to have a gun entered the building. No shots were fired and no one was physically hurt, but the experience was traumatic for many.

A code red lockdown took place at Patrick Henry High School on February 27 after a person thought to have a gun entered the building. No shots were fired and no one was physically hurt, but the experience was traumatic for many.

 "Our kids deserve better. They deserve to feel safe out in the community as well as when they're in school. The incident just happened in Florida, so I can only imagine how much more stress these young folks are feeling at this time," said Ward 4 City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham at the scene that day.  Photos courtesy of Phillip I Murphy

"Our kids deserve better. They deserve to feel safe out in the community as well as when they're in school. The incident just happened in Florida, so I can only imagine how much more stress these young folks are feeling at this time," said Ward 4 City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham at the scene that day. Photos courtesy of Phillip I Murphy

By Cirien Saadeh | Staff Reporter

Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and 21 threats issued to Minnesota schools over the last three weeks, Governor Dayton has proposed $15.9 million for school safety improvements, and an additional $5 million for mental health support, in a recently-introduced Safe and Secure Schools Act.

If legislators approve the funding, which would need to be done by the end of the legislative session in May, that $21 million would be divvied up amongst Minnesota’s schools districts. Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) would receive approximately $672,000, according to data released by Dayton’s office today, March 8. The MPS Board would then choose how to allocate that money.

But $21 million may not be enough. Jason Matlock, Director for Operational and Security Services for MPS notes that a one-time allocation of  $672,000 could support training initiatives and to respond to some security camera and access point issues, but he says the money wouldn’t go far.

“It won't make a large dent in our physical systems, particularly equitably,” said Matlock. "If we're serious about school safety, we have to be serious about funding it.”

According to Dirk Tedmon, Media Relations Coordinator for MPS, just the cost of just changing the locks on all MPS doors — a safety recommendation brought up in Dayton’s legislative proposal — is $11 million.

Dayton’s proposal comes on the heels of a Feb. 27 incident at Patrick Henry High School (4320 N Newton Ave), where, according to media reports, a man exited a city bus and walked into the high school. The incident occurred around 3:30pm after the school day had ended, though some students and staff were still in the building. There were fears that the individual had a gun, and the schools was put on lockdown. According to media reports citing security footage, the individual then left the building. Information on the lockdown made its way through local and social media, as worried people attempted to understand what was going on. No shots were fired and no one was physically injured.

At March's Hawthorne Huddle, Lt. Chris House (MPD 4th Precinct) noted that response time to the incident was particularly quick, because two SWAT teams were training within blocks of Henry at the time of the incident. MPS Board Member Kerry Jo Felder was also present. According to Felder, work has been done to ensure that the high school’s doors would be secure.

According to Matlock, the incident at Henry was not a mechanical error at the doors, but rather a “people error” — the doors may not have been properly monitored. Following the incident, they are working with Henry community members to ensure that entry and exit points are fully-staffed and that all individuals are trained to be aware of the doors and who is coming into and leaving the space.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that your students feel safe from the outside and that they feel safe to be students. But there's always room for improvement. A lot of what we need to do is around staffing,” said Matlock, “We have stuff that happens everyday. If we don’t have people that are well-trained, if we don’t have systems in place to help support our kids, then it’s not really going to be impactful just to add locks or add bullet-proof glass.”

Widespread anger over gun violence inspired a March 8 walkout to the Minnesota State Capitol amongst students in the Twin Cities. Other national walkouts are scheduled for March 14 and April 20. According to WCCO, students from across North Minneapolis will also be traveling to Washington, D.C. on March 24 for March For Our Lives. Sister marches will be held in the Twin Cities and across the country that day.

“The reason I am in this is I want to impact everybody and show why we need to change these laws and make it harder for people to get guns,” said Timothy Brown, a sophomore at North High School, at a press conference announcing the walkout.

MPS released a statement on gun violence-related walkouts on Feb. 21, prior to the incident at Henry:

“There are no easy answers, but it’s time for our country to have a real conversation about how to move forward to protect our students and teachers. It’s been profound to see that conversation being led by students. We encourage our families to have conversations with their students about their expectations and participation in non-school sponsored activities, including walkouts. MPS respects students’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and we will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful. However, the best way for us to ensure student safety during the school day is to know where our students are—that’s simply not possible once they leave school grounds. At this time, our normal policies regarding student attendance and walkouts still apply.”

Information on MPS’ current walkout policy can be found here.

Kenzie O'Keefe