Diverse members of Utah School Safety Commission to look for ways to make schools safe

SALT LAKE CITY -- Once again, American television screens were filled recently with images of students evacuating their school with their arms in the air.

This time, it happened in Parkland, Florida—where a gunmen shot and killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School.

In thinking about how to avoid such a tragedy, Utah State Representative Mike Kennedy had an idea.

"What we really needed to do is bring together a commission, a commission of different voices and different perspectives," he said.

So the Utah School Safety Commission was created from non-partisan volunteers, who bring years of expertise in a wide range of disciplines.

Each gladly accepted the challenge, and shared some ideas when they were introduced Thursday.

Heidi Matthews, President, Utah Education Association, said: "One of the most exciting things I see happening right now is the movement of our students demanding that the adults make policy changes and keep them safe and we need to answer that."

Dallas Earnshaw, Superintendent, Utah State Hospital said: That we can identify these at-risk individuals and be able to wrap around services and help them at a very early stage of their lives so that tragic things don't happen in the lives of our loved ones and in the community."

Keith Squires, Commissioner, Utah Department of Public Safety, said: "There are the opportunities there that could come forward, some that we haven't even heard yet that may make sense and may make a difference in something that so many of us care about."

John Hoffman, Professor of Sociology, Brigham Young University, said: "We want this process to be evidence-based, to be based on the best research that's out there on school safety, how to keep students safe in schools as well as in their neighborhoods."

Bryan Turner, Director of Architectural Services, Davis School District, said: "This has been a problem the last few years trying to get everyone on the same page, there's a lot of different ideas of what a safe school should look like, so I'm happy to be on this committee and hopefully we come up with some answers."

Clark Aposhian, Chair, Utah Shooting Sports Council, said: We're looking forward to some great dialog, everything's going to be on the table, and I think as we dialog and talk these things we're going to identify the actual problems and trust in the solutions."

Terryl Warner, Utah State Board of Education, said: "I want to make sure that everybody that walks through the doors of a public school, or a private school, or a non-traditional school feels safe."

There are two empty chairs on the commission that still need to be filled. They're reserved for two high school students, because of all the voices that should be heard, it is the voice of students.

The House of Representatives will announce how students can ask to fill those chairs sometime this week.