Arizona teachers and professors could be required to report students they feel are being dangerous if a bill in the state House of Representatives passes.
In an effort to prevent gun violence on Arizona school campuses, House Bill 2555 would require teachers to use reasonable suspicion concerning potentially dangerous students before reporting them to the police.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he was inspired to write the bill after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said he did not understand how a shooter could so easily gain access to students, so he began conducting research about Arizona’s security measures against school violence.
Kavanagh learned that no Arizona law requires teachers to report dangerous behavior, and so he drafted HB 2555.
“It’s about catching signs of dangerous behavior early on so that we can prevent violence,” Kavanagh said.
He said he will add an amendment to the bill that will develop a training program for teachers to define reasonable suspicion and teach them to look for signs of mental instability. The bill will not give teachers a method to discriminate against students but will make classrooms safer, he said.
Kavanagh said Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson in January 2011, showed suspicious and dangerous behavior leading up to the mass shooting.
“It’s not discrimination against students with mental issues,” Kavanagh said. “It’s about getting these kids help.”
Under HB 2555, a teacher who has reasonable suspicion that someone is an immediate danger to themselves or someone else, would be required to file a report with police.
Officers would determine whether the teacher’s concerns are legitimate, and if so, they would take the student into custody. The student then must pass a psychiatric examination before he or she is cleared to return to school. This applies to teachers at the elementary school level through post-secondary education.
Kavanagh also proposed House Bill 2618, which would require policemen to receive additional training in recognizing dangerous behavior in people with mental illness.
HB 2618 was transmitted to the state Senate on Friday.
If HB 2618 and HB 2555 with the proposed amendments pass, authorities will be heavily trained to deal with students with mental health issues.
“This will make students at ASU safer,” Kavanagh said.
Rep. Bob Robson, speaker pro tempore for the House of Representatives, said the bill is unnecessary as teachers already have systems in place to prevent violence. Robson, R-Chandler, also teaches at the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
“If we suspect someone is having difficulty, we already do things to help them,” Robson said.
Robson said he wouldn’t expect any teacher to ignore the threat of immediate violence if they had reasonable suspicion it would occur.
Jordan Tygh, vice president of policy for Tempe Undergraduate Student Government, said he appreciates the intentions of the bill but worries it could be abused.
“I support the basic idea of HB 2555, but I am concerned that this law could be abused,” Tygh said. “A bad teacher who dislikes a student could attempt to falsely claim that a student was threatening simply because they don’t like the student. That sort of abuse of this law should result in a major punishment for that teacher.”
Tygh said giving teachers legal power to intervene in potentially dangerous situations could prevent school violence.
“It can be a great tool to stop potential school shootings,” Tygh said. “I think we need to initially trust teachers and their instincts about a student who may be threatening.”
HB 2555 passed the Rules Committee on Feb. 25 and moves to the House of Representatives floor for voting.
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