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  6. How the Louisiana Youth Advisory Council Informs School Safety

Listen to Students and Let Them Lead: How the I2P Award-Winning Louisiana Youth Advisory Council Informs School Safety

Thirty-one students are selected each year from districts throughout Louisiana to represent their peers as members of Louisiana Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) and propose recommendations on youth-related issues. The council was created by legislation in 2008 after students told a state senator visiting their high school that they wanted a program allowing direct access to lawmakers. He proposed a bill to encompass not just his district but districts from across the state of Louisiana.  

“That is one thing we had been missing—the students. This is their life experience. They know the ins and outs of their schools and each other, and to leave them out of these conversations is a mistake,” Megan Bella, LYAC staff coordinator said.  

School Safety and Mental Health

In 2022, LYAC won first prize at Invent2Prevent (I2P) for their “Let’s Talk” card game. Funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3), I2P is a program that challenges high school and college students to create and implement products, tools, or initiatives to address acts of terrorism and targeted violence in their communities.  

The “Let’s Talk” card game was designed to bridge the gap between students, who are bullied or feel isolated, and their peers to generate better understanding of each other. The cards range from “light” to “deep” questions to help students get to know each other and share life experiences to feel more connected. LYAC’s attendance and subsequent win at I2P was an important step for LYAC—it connected the Louisiana students to others across the country working on similar violence prevention issues. I2P also underlined the key, foundational component of LYAC: ensuring student voices are heard and empowering them to create solutions that will benefit other students all over the country.  

“Students have been talking about mental health and ensuring their peers are okay from the beginning instead of waiting until we’re in this dire space where something bad is happening and we don’t know what to do,” Bella stated. “We’re getting in on the front end and helping students feel safe and secure at their schools as well as giving parents peace of mind that their children are safe.” 

School Safety Act 

LYAC members were involved in passing the School Safety Act in June 2023. A suspicious backpack was found at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, LA, and a safety planning gap was discovered: students and faculty had practiced lockdown procedures for classrooms, but not for lunch periods, before and after school, or during class transitions. The traumatic event left students and faculty out in the open, without knowing where to go or what to do.    

“The success of Act 334 is the strength of our students’ voices. Pairing the very definite problem of school safety in Louisiana with legislation brought by the LYAC students ensured success.” — Louisiana State Senator Barry Milligan

Some Benjamin Franklin students who served on the LYAC brought the issue up for discussion. Other LYAC members noted the same gap in procedure at their schools, and the group turned to Louisiana State Senator Barry Milligan for help.  

Senator Milligan met with Senate Staff, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), and the Louisiana State Police to begin drafting a bill—the School Safety Act of 2023 (Act).  

The Act builds on existing laws requiring a crisis management and response plan by providing additional guidance for creating these plans and requiring increased safety drills during high-traffic and transition times during the school day. The legislation also provides access to and faculty training on bleed control kits, centralized guidance, and training resources. 

The overarching goal of the School Safety Act was to provide a centralized place for all information and guidance related to school safety. The legislation also called for a single agency that any school in the state could contact to obtain training, answers to questions, funding, and other assistance. The Louisiana Center for Safe Schools was established under GOHSEP, and they are already receiving calls from schools across Louisiana for guidance and resources. 

“The success of Act 334 is the strength of our students’ voices. Pairing the very definite problem of school safety in Louisiana with legislation brought by the LYAC students ensured success,” explained Senator Milligan.  

“We knew the strategy was to focus on the students’ stories, told by them in all four committees in the process, because we knew no legislator would deny their word or their work. The creation of the Center for School Safety and all the moving parts contained within is a victory for the LYAC students and our schools throughout the state. They moved the needle when we needed it most! It was an honor to work with the LYAC students and Ms. Bella to put Louisiana schools in a better place for safety.” 

“You can talk about policies, but hearing those stories firsthand is what makes the impact and leads to change.” — Megan Bella, LYAC Staff Coordinator

Bella noted that collaboration is key in violence prevention—the multitude of disciplines, backgrounds, and ages of individuals involved in the collective effort provide unique insight and skills to make the country safer. Using a diverse group of individuals to assess the violence prevention efforts already in place, and the best way to build on them, will ensure a well-rounded, relevant response at all levels, according to Bella. 

That conversation starts with future leaders across our high schools, she explained. 

“Our main goal at LYAC in general is getting student voices heard – to listen to them and let them take the lead,” Bella said. “This passionate group of students were able to tell their stories at the state capitol, to say, ‘this happened at my school, and we have to change it.’ You can talk about policies, but hearing those stories firsthand is what makes the impact and leads to change.” 

Last Updated: 03/14/2024
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