Texas school shooting prompts creation of Nebraska task force to review practices

By: - May 26, 2022 8:14 pm

Law enforcement officers stand near a memorial at Robb Elementary School following a mass shooting on May 26, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, 19 students and two adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Nebraska education leaders are forming a task force, in light of this week’s elementary school shooting in Texas, to review best practices and identify ways that classrooms throughout the state can have access to the highest standard of safety possible.

State Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said Thursday he expects that proposed legislation could come from the task force, although the scope of the group and its work is still being crystalized.

State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, instigated creation of the “School Safety Task Force,” and during the past two days education leaders have already convened to start discussing strategies for moving forward.

Walz, in a statement, called it a recommitment of efforts to keep students and educators safe.

Every issue and idea are on the table for consideration because, while tragedies like the one in Texas can quickly become political and partisan, the safety of our students is a moral imperative upon which we can all agree.

– State Sen. Lynne Walz, chair of the Legislature's Education Committee

“I know our education community is committed to our students, families and educators,” said Walz. “They will continue to ensure our schools are safe and welcoming places where every student can thrive.”

Lynne Walz
State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

In coming months, Walz said, the state’s education leaders will ask tough questions and listen to experts.

“Every issue and idea are on the table for consideration because, while tragedies like the one in Texas can quickly become political and partisan, the safety of our students is a moral imperative upon which we can all agree,” Walz said.

She said Nebraska schools are committed to early intervention and cited existing programs, such as the new Safe2Help Nebraska, which offers a 24-7 way to anonymously report concerning behavior. The system, piloted in Douglas County, was expanded statewide through recent legislative action.

Walz also noted that recent federal COVID relief aid sent to Nebraska schools was targeted at student welfare and support.

Blomstedt said that some larger districts might be more prepared or equipped than others across the state. Practices aren’t always the same, and Blomstedt said it’s important to look at how support can be made available to all areas of Nebraska.

“The reality is we know our communities have different capacities,” Blomstedt said. He said part of the work ahead also is in ensuring access to behavioral and mental health support systems that address “root causes” of violence.

Certain districts, he said, have made much progress in school safety, and a question is: “What can be scaled up?”

Blomstedt said the task force is to include not only educators, but community and parental perspectives as well. 

Citing Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Walz said such tragedies are too common in the United States and said the causes must be confronted. She said such tragic events compel Nebraska to reinforce the need to be more united than ever.

Said Blomstedt: “Every time one of these happens you have to ask yourself: ‘Have we done everything?’”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.