A federal school safety commission created by President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting in February made the rounds in Lexington Tuesday.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' second in charge, Mick Zais, headed up the first hour-long roundtable, which included Gov. Matt Bevin, Interim Kentucky Education Commssioner Wayne Lewis, along with officials from Tennessee and Wisconsin, among others.
State Sen. Danny Carroll, who represents Marshall County – where a school shooting took the lives of two students this year – told reporters the looming problem of school violence needs serious attention from the General Assembly in 2019. For now, state lawmakers are holding interim hearings throughout the commonwealth with the goal of delivering recommendations to the full body.
"It's sad that we have to be here and discuss this," the Paducah Republican commented. "But in our state it is a prominent issue, and this will, without question, be one of the top issues that we will deal with going back into the session in January."
Addressing the lack of action, Bevin pointed the finger at the legislature, adding, "This school shooting (in Marshall County) happened January 23rd and here we are at the end of June. We still don't have any legislation."
In remarks to the commission, the governor described increased school security as a "band-aid" and repeated impassioned pleas to focus on the roots of the problem: anxiety, depression, and desensitization caused by the overconsumption of hyper-violent entertainment and social media. And the cure, Bevin cautioned, sometimes makes matters worse.
"We are arming children with a device that has been proven time and time again... leads to greater self-doubt, greater depression, greater ideas of self-harm," he warned. "And then this ultimately leads to children being diagnosed with disorders that are then medicated with things that exacerbate and compound this."
Bevin also took media outlets to task for publishing the names of school shooters, arguing the practice plays into the fame-seeking behavior of the perpetrators.
Panelists discussed state efforts to bolster communication between schools, police, and local officials, beefing up security, and an app that allows troubled students and their classmates to reach out to authorities before tragedy strikes. After summarized her state's iniatitives, Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker pushed back on Bevin's diagnosis, sparking a brief exchange.
"I think the phone is a problem... and if we could take it away, I'd take it away," she said. "But the root of the problem is adverse childhood experiences."
True to Senate tesimony by DeVos, the first of three scheduled discussions steered clear of any mention of the role of guns in recent incidents of school violence. Pressed afterward, Bevin said keeping firearms away from children is parents' responsibility.
"It's a shame that we would even need to talk about that. I mean, once upon a time, parents understood they were repsonsible for their kids. I do think it's important to keep reminding them of that," the governor answered.
Stream the listening session below.