Students from the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition oppose House Bill 147, which gained state Senate approval today. (Photo courtesy: Georgia Youth Justice Coalition)

ATLANTA – The state Senate passed legislation Monday that will require Georgia public schools to conduct active-shooter drills by Oct. 1 of each year.  

Gov. Brian Kemp’s “Safe Schools Act” also creates a school-safety and anti-gang certification for teachers and other school employees who complete a school safety and gang-deterrence training program.  

“This modernizes school safety protocols for the year 2023,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, R-Brunswick, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “There’s no greater priority than keeping our children, teachers and personnel safe.”  

Though the bill ultimately passed nearly unanimously, it drew criticism from Democrats.   

“This bill highlights our failure year after year to make meaningful changes to address the gun violence that is plaguing our schools, our communities, our streets and our homes,” said Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.  

Parent, who ultimately voted for the bill, noted that several Democratic-sponsored gun control bills have not received committee hearings during this year’s legislative session.  

“Prevention of school shootings must involve a comprehensive approach if we are serious, including gun safety and gun violence prevention and mental health strategies,” she said. “Instead ,we’re here with a bill that offers synthetic protection.”

The bill’s focus on gang-violence prevention also drew concerns.

“I’m concerned that identification-focused training could result in racial profiling of students, and it could increase their likelihood of being exposed to the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson. 

To address that concern, Merritt and other Democrats proposed amendments that would have struck language focused on deterring gang violence from the bill. However, majority Republicans rejected those amendments.

Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, also proposed an ultimately unsuccessful amendment that would have required, rather than allowed, local school districts to provide parents the ability to opt their children out of the intruder drills.  

“We are disappointed, but we will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that we minimize harm to Georgia students with regards to the racial profiling aspect and shooter drill trauma,” said Francesca Ruhe, a Georgia State University student who is also a lobbyist for the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, an organization made up of high school and college students.  

Ruhe and other students pointed to research from Georgia Tech that found active shooter drills are associated with increases in stress and anxiety among both students and teachers.  

The bill now moves to the governor’s desk for his signature. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.