The Norman Transcript

Opinion

May 26, 2013

State should require, fund school shelters

NORMAN — The tornadoes that struck our county this week have caused most of us to assess the safety of our families, our co-workers and friends. Although much of the dialogue has looked at individual shelters, public and private schools can’t escape the focus.

Oklahoma does not require storm shelters or safe rooms in public schools. Nor does any other state. Some districts and communities have included them for newer schools and homes. None of the state’s nearly 600 school districts have such a mandate. Moore is considering a mandate for new homes to be so equipped.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday estimated only 100 of the state’s 1,752 public schools have storm shelters or safe rooms big enough to accommodate students, faculty and staff. She said there would be pushback on any requirement but a policy discussion is warranted.

It’s time for Oklahoma lawmakers to hold such a debate on the needs and the state’s commitment to funding such a requirement. The Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting in December lead to a task force and more requirements for schools but no allocation of funds, despite rising state coffers and calls for funding of two cultural museums.

Individual districts have the abilities to include such requirements in their new schools or retrofit existing schools but it may slow their growth plans. State lawmakers can add to the private efforts already begun and designate a funding source for schools to tap. One such private measure was announced Thursday when Apache Corporation donated $500,000 to pay for safe rooms or shelters in Moore schools.

Wichita residents passed a $45 million bond issue in 2008 after a violent tornado ripped through there. The money funded shelters in 60 schools. Some were for planned new schools and some retrofits of existing schools. 

Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano told a business group Friday he could start retrofitting schools with shelters within two weeks if the state funded such an enterprise.

Norman’s recently-built Reagan Elementary has a safe room, which was money well spent.

We believe lawmakers can and should make a commitment to the state’s children and designate a funding source for all schools to tap. 

To paraphrase a cliché heard more than once since last Monday’s deadly storm, can you really put a price tag on the life of a child?

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