H.B. 2400: School Safety Bill Fails To Prioritize Student Mental Health

By Abbie Conrad. 

In a unanimous decision earlier this year, the Arizona House Education Committee approved House Bill 2400, a bill that would change Arizona’s current school safety grant program. The bill’s provisions originally expanded the resources supported by the program to include “school safety officers, school psychologists, and the costs of purchasing safety technology, safety training and infrastructure improvement for school campuses.” However, there is recent controversy around an amendment to the bill added by the committee’s chair, Republican Representative Beverly Pingerelli, which excludes school psychologists from the lists of eligible grant recipients. 

Arizona School Safety Program

Arizona’s school safety program is codified in Arizona Revised Statute § 15-154. According to the statute, the “program is established within the department of education to support, promote and enhance safe and effective learning environments for all students by supporting the costs of placing school resource officers, juvenile probation officers, school counselors and school social workers on school campuses.” The School Safety Program is a grant funded by the state and operates in three-year cycles. It is a competitive program available to Arizona public schools and charter schools.  

One successful aspect of the bill is the introduction of retired police officers on campus. H.B. 2400 was introduced to address a challenge in filling vacant officer and counselor positions in Arizona schools. Many grant recipients in this year’s cycle were unable to hire school resource officers (“SROs”) because of staffing shortages within local police departments. As a result, the Department of Education allowed schools to hire off-duty police officers, known as school safety officers (“SSOs”), to assist with the hiring gaps. One problem with this solution is SSOs work part-time, leaving some concerned about the ability of part-time officers to establish meaningful connections with students, parents, and teachers. 

While the inconsistency of retired officers’ schedules is not ideal, the bill’s authorization of SSOs will help address the position vacancies in schools. This marks some progress in keeping Arizona schools safe, but H.B. 2400 could extend further by confronting the current student mental health epidemic. 

H.B. 2400: Exclusion of School Psychologists

The most significant recent change of H.B. 2400 is its removal of psychologists from the costs supported by the grant program. The controversy of whether the bill should include psychologists stems from a debate over what the School Safety Program should prioritize and what maintaining school safety actually entails. According to Representative Pingerelli, “[i]n 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.”

According to others, psychologists are an important element in keeping schools safe. Democrat Representative Judy Schwiebert disagreed with the amendment, claiming, “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.”  Representative Jevin Hodge added, [i]f we want to continue making sure schools are safe, we must pull every lever.”

School Safety & Mental Health

Removing school psychologists from Arizona’s educational system could jeopardize the fundamental safety and security of schools across the state. Student mental health is a major problem schools across the country are facing. Ensuring positive student mental health plays a crucial role in maintaining school safety. Additionally, providing student access to mental health services on campus helps to promote higher student outcomes, prevents mental health issues from worsening, and leads to a more positive school environment. 

At the House Education Committee meeting, Representative Hodge maintained he supports having SSOs on campus but explained that omitting psychologists exacerbates the risk of violence occurring on campus. School psychologists are trained with research-supported programs and procedures that enable them to address violence before it happens. Representative Hodge made a plea for other committee members to seriously consider the consequences of removing psychologists, giving the example of a Corona del Sol high school student who took his own life on campus. He explained that if the high school had access to resources like on-campus psychologists, tragedies like the one at Corona could potentially be avoided.

On the other side of the debate, some view student mental health as solely a parent’s responsibility. Representative Jones expressed concern over a school psychologist crossing the line into parents’ rights. She explained that the allocation of grant funds is better suited elsewhere due to parental fear that a psychologist might overstep.

Parents clearly play a significant role and have rights concerning their child’s mental health. Nevertheless, given the major population of students who face mental health challenges, the inclusion of on-campus psychologists would serve as an additional resource available to students. By helping students with their mental health struggles, psychologists would help maintain overall school safety. Mental health is a complicated topic, and many parents would appreciate the presence of school psychologists to help them understand their child’s struggles. Further, research shows that a child is more inclined to talk to a mental health professional when those resources are readily available in school.

What’s Next?

Despite committee members’ concern over the removal of psychologists, the amended bill advanced unanimously. H.B. 2400 is the result of an ongoing effort to improve campus safety. While the addition of SSOs is a step towards improving safety, the importance of psychologists should not be overlooked. As the bill is still at the beginning of the legislative process, Arizonans can remain hopeful that allocating resources for student mental health will be considered a priority and reflected in future bill versions.

"Arizona House of Representatives building" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

By Abbie Conrad

J.D. Candidate, 2025

Abbie Conrad is a 2L Staff Writer from Phoenix, Arizona, interested in Real Estate Law. Before law school, Abbie earned her B.S. in Strategic Communication from Texas Christian University. In her free time, Abbie enjoys pilates, baking, and time with friends and family.