JEFFERSON CITY — Proposals dealing with the Bible, armed resource officers and increased suicide prevention efforts in schools were the subject of a House education hearing Tuesday.
While legislation that mandates suicide prevention training for teachers received bipartisan and public support, bills that would allow Biblical texts to be taught in schools, mandate armed school resource officers and establish private school scholarship funds heard opposing testimony.
HB 1820 would require each Missouri school district to offer suicide prevention training to all practicing teachers, administrators and licensed educators. Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, the bill’s sponsor, said the training would help educators recognize when students are in a potential crisis.
In Missouri, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 24 in 2016, according to a study by the Missouri Institute of Mental Health.
“As we increase the number of those trained, we will be able to increase the number helped and ultimately reduce suicide rates,” said Kelley.
HB 1820 would also require public school districts and public higher education institutions to print the number for the National Suicide Prevention and the Crisis Text Line on student identification cards.
The bill was supported by both committee members and those who testified.
HB 1345 did not receive the same universal support. The bill would allow school districts to offer elective courses to teach classes on the Judeo-Christian Bible as historical texts. Supporters of the bill said that courses would not focus on religious aspects of the Old and New Testament but rather on how the text influenced American history and society.
“Trying to understand Western civilization and English literature without the knowledge of the Bible is like trying to understand American history without reading the Constitution,” said Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, the bill’s sponsor.
Missouri does have existing law that allows religious books to be used in classrooms for instructional purposes in elective courses on literature and history.
Some who opposed the bill felt it would be impossible to separate the religious contexts from the Old and New Testaments in a history class. Brian Kaylor, the associate director of ChurchNet, said he did not believe the texts could be “reduced simply to a class.”
“The Bible is the foundational text of my faith,” said Kaylor. “It teaches me about God, it teaches me how to worship God and follow God’s commands. And that is its whole purpose.”
Sarah Baker, a legislative and policy director of the ACLU of Missouri, also testified that the bill had constitutional problems in it that could marginalize other religions by singling one text out over others.
Despite this, those who testified in support of the bill felt the Judeo-Christian Bible is an invaluable tool in understanding Western civilization.
Another bill heard in the committee that received both support and opposition was HB 1961, which mandates having at least one armed and trained student resource officer in every public school building.
The bill would also allow school districts to alternatively employ trained volunteers who are former members of law enforcement or the U.S. armed forces.
“This will give a lot of people, especially a lot of former military men and women, a new purpose to protect a school full of kiddos,” said Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, in support of the bill.
Opposition for HB 1961 suggested that student resource officers should remain within local jurisdiction and that there are alternative methods to prevent gun violence in schools, including laws and education regarding proper firearm storage at home and expanding mental health resources.
“An armed teacher or administrator or volunteer is much more likely to shoot a student or a bystander than to respond to the perpetrator of the crime,” said Cathy Gilbert of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, citing a study by Everytown for Gun Safety.
The fourth bill heard during Tuesday’s meeting was House Bill 2068, which would establish the “Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship Act.”
The bill would allow taxpayers to make tax-deductible contributions to the scholarship fund for current public or charter school students to attend qualifying private schools. Those who testified in support said the scholarship would give students access to better education, while those who opposed believed that funding could support the public school system.