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These 6 Utah schools are putting $31K state grants to work improving safety training

A row of lockers in a Utah school.
Brian Albers
A row of lockers in a Utah school.

It has been more than two months since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas left 21 people dead. After the shooting, many Utahns felt anxious, fearful and sad — and those feelings are rising again as another K-12 school year approaches.

To ease concerns, some Utah schools are improving safety measures.

Six schools received the School Safety Pilot Program Grant, which provides each school up to $31,250 to improve safety measures. Recipients include Cedar Valley High School and Frontier Middle School in Alpine School District, Mountain Crest High in Cache County School District, Union Middle School in Canyons School District, Northridge High in Davis School District and North Sanpete High in the North Sanpete School District.

Rhett Larsen, the student and school safety specialist at the Utah State Board of Education, said the grant does not fund the “hardening of schools.” That means the money can’t be used for things like extra locks, cameras and bulletproof glass.

“Those funds are provided to increase trust in school safety measures like threat assessment, which is a critical component in helping support our schools,” Larsen said.

And that’s what these schools are doing.

Larsen said North Sanpete School District used its funds to partner with the I Love U Guys Foundation to conduct reunification training. The idea is to help parents and students find each other when a crisis happens. The foundation was started after Ellen and John-Michael Keyes’ daughter Emily Keyes died during a school shooting. She sent a text to both her parents that day, saying “I love U guys.”

Jarom Bécar, the principal at Frontier Middle School, said his school used funding for training as well. One was in Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines. It instructs trainees how to process different threats of violence, respond appropriately and implement a safety plan.

“It’s never OK when we’ve got kids suffering,” Becar said. “It’s our job to try to mitigate and to create opportunities to help and support kids.”

The training the school went through helped everyone feel safer, but Bécar said it can’t erase all concerns.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you, yeah, we did these trainings, and I feel like we’re adequately prepared to detour anything terrible for any of my kids,” he said. “But that conscious effort we take every day and to take care of each other, not just at school, but in our communities, in our homes, is so important.”

The School Safety Pilot Program Grant is now accepting applications for funding for 2023.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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