Bill requiring armed security guards in Utah schools heads to full Senate vote

Feb 26, 2024, 7:21 PM | Updated: Feb 27, 2024, 6:47 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah schools could soon be required to have an armed guard in them if a big school safety bill passes the Utah Legislature.

A massive school safety bill passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Monday and just needs a full Senate vote before passing the Legislature. HB84 requires several school safety upgrades like panic buttons and cameras for Utah schools. It also sets up a state security chief tasked with a massive rollout of these new school safety measures.

The bill also creates this school guardian program – requiring an armed resource officer in every school and that could include a volunteer who has a concealed carry permit. A substituted version approved Monday allows smaller schools to be able to petition to get out of that requirement.

That part of the bill is still giving some people some heartburn. Teri Rhodes, president of the Utah School Boards Association said parents she recently met with are nervous.

“(I told them) we could have a volunteer with a gun. And the parents in the room got big eyes and said, ‘That is terrifying,’” she said.

School resources officer Chris Ruiz, who works in the Alpine District, likes the idea and believes it could buy officers time in the case of a school shooting.

“It is having someone who is trained, who knows how to respond, who is an effective tool for us as law enforcement to assess the situation, to neutralize this threat,” he said.

Lawmakers who worked on the bill say there are enough safeguards in the bill when it comes to training. That training requires things like semi-annual training in schools, mental health training, and training on deescalation tactics and the layout of schools.

“It’s not just anybody who wants to be a school guardian, and you have to be somebody who has really met the benchmarks for being that,” said Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden.

She said that the training is akin to what police officers would get.

“(School guardians) have to pass the same kinds of assessments, in some ways, that a police officer would have to assess and make sure that they have all the training that’s required to do it. And it will be done in conjunction with our public safety professionals,” she said.

Ruiz argues that concealed carrying on campus is already happening and this bill just sets up a process for that.

“Alpine schools, a district allows their teachers to carry on campus. It has to be on the person. It can’t be in a desk, it can’t be on a shelf, can be in their backpack,” he said.

Most who spoke at Monday’s committee were in favor of this bill overall.

Commenters included Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the 2018 Parkland, Florida, shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Parkland shooting victims are remembered in silence

She is now pushing for “Alyssa’s law” across the country, and here in Utah, that includes the use of the panic button in schools that’s directly connected to law enforcement.

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Bill requiring armed security guards in Utah schools heads to full Senate vote