Dayton school safety plan to focus on money, mental health

Mark Dayton
In this May 11, 2017 photo, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton speaks at a news conference in St. Paul, Minn.
Jim Mone | AP 2017

Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he'll outline a school safety proposal next week that will include financial support for school districts to shore up building security and to extend mental health help quickly to expelled students.

Dayton spent the past several days in Washington where the recent Florida high school shootings were a major topic of discussion among federal leaders and the nation's governors. The DFL governor met with key members of his cabinet and top lawmakers Tuesday to start discussing ideas, from gun proposals to intervening with troubled students.

While he wants Congress to act to prevent similar tragedies, Dayton said states must also do their part.

"I think Minnesotans — I think people across the country — are saying you may not be able to do everything. But you've got to do some things that are going to make a real difference," Dayton told reporters.

Besides funding, Dayton also indicated the plan may call for students who are expelled from school to be automatically referred to social service workers for a threat assessment and to figure out what help they might need.

"If somebody is behaving badly enough that they're going to be expelled from school or basically forced to leave school, that's a signal right there," Dayton said. "Even if you don't believe they're at risk to go murder other people, they're in serious emotional distress."

On Monday, Republican legislators listed school security high on their to-do list. Giving schools flexibility to devise their own strategies is key, said Senate Education Finance Committee Chair Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.

"Some schools have armed security guards, and would like more," she said. "A number of schools have collaborative agreements with their local police departments and have a police liaison in their schools."

Nationally, there's considerable debate in progress about arming teachers. Dayton said Minnesota has already had that discussion.

"In fact, in Minnesota principals can already authorize somebody to have a concealed weapon — a teacher or an administrator or whatever — so that's already an option in our schools under existing Minnesota law," he said.

So far, leaders of both parties say they're committed to accomplishing at least something before the session concludes in May. Dayton made it clear, though, he does want gun proposals in the school safety plan mix.

"Some of these other measures about people who shouldn't have guns because of domestic violence, because of stalking, because of mental illness that members of their own families have identified," Dayton said. "There are some things that Minnesotans are going to say, 'Yeah, it just makes such obvious common sense. Why wouldn't anybody support that?' Then they'll ask questions of their legislators. And that's how it should be."

He acknowledged that the pressure from gun-rights groups to resist new firearms restrictions will be strong but said he wanted to focus on "what we can actually get done."

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