School safety will be a prominent issue in the Alabama legislative session beginning Feb. 1, with lawmakers deciding whether to purchase security cameras for hallways and enact tougher penalties for bomb threats that force students out of class.
Gov. Don Siegelman said he will propose PEEP, the Private Eyes Education Program, which would allow middle schools and high schools to apply for state grants of up to $10,000 to install security cameras.
Sen. Bill Armistead, R-Columbiana, has drafted legislation to increase the penalty for making a bomb threat causing the evacuation of a public building or public transportation. He wants to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a year in jail, to a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Several Alabama schools have had to evacuate recently due to bomb threats, and at least four teen-agers have been charged with making the threats.
“This is not only terribly disrupting to the school’s efforts to provide a quality education, but the trauma that school officials, students, and parents experience is becoming too commonplace in Alabama,” Armistead said.
Siegelman is proposing $1.3 million for the security camera program in its first year, which could put the cameras in a minimum of 130 of Alabama’s 800 middle schools and high schools.
To try to prevent a school killing in Alabama, many school systems have hired security guards and required students to use clear plastic backpacks. The Legislature has authorized school uniforms, locker searches, and tougher penalties for assaulting teachers. But Siegelman said more is needed.
“This one effort will help ensure that our kids and our parents get the peace of mind they deserve while they are trying to focus on education,” he said.
Schools in Birmingham and Huntsville already have security cameras, which school officials have found beneficial in deterring trouble by students and thwarting crime by intruders.
“They catch people quite often who have broken into the building,” said Ann Fee, president of the Huntsville school board.