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Bill to change Arizona's school safety program advances, amendment removes psychologists

A bill that would make several changes to Arizona’s school safety grant program is moving forward at the state Capitol. The House Education Committee approved the measure Tuesday.

HB 2400 would add school safety officers (SSOs) to the grant program. Those are part-timers assigned to fill in gaps when full-timers — known as school resource officers (SROs) — aren’t available. 

Retired officers would also become eligible, which is currently not allowed under state law. The committee's chair, Republican Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, added an amendment that removes school psychologists from the costs supported by the grant program.

“In my mind, school safety is SROs, SSOs, and the physical infrastructure, so I opted to put the amendment to have the money go to where I think that it’s needed in terms of what truly is a value for safety on campus, in my opinion," Pingerelli said.

Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Judy Schwiebert, disagreed with Pingerelli. The amendment passed against their wishes.

“SROs absolutely are a part, I believe, of the climate of safety in a school or certainly can be, but if we’re not investing in counselors or school psychologists, we’re missing an opportunity for prevention," Schwiebert said.

The amendment also mandates that each school employing an officer train them on how to recognize and effectively interact with students with disabilities.

The bill also allow schools to apply for the purchase of safety technology, training, and infrastructure improvements.

The committee advanced the amended bill unanimously. It now goes to the House Rules Committee.

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Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.