Thursday, February 22, 2018

School safety plans in the spotlight

Since the horrific mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida on February 14, questions about local school districts’ readiness in the event of an emergency have been flooding in to school administrators and board members across the nation. Media, parents, and community members are asking school district representatives what they are doing to plan and prepare for the safety of the students and staff in case such a gut-wrenching scene develops in one of their schools.

In all likelihood, a school safety plan is in place in your school district. In Illinois, it is required by law in the School Safety Drill Act. But the plan’s effectiveness depends on whether the emergency plan was simply completed and set upon a shelf, or if it is a living document that is revisited, revised, and drilled on a continual basis.

When the drill act was written more than ten years ago it was considered one of the most comprehensive in the country. Today, the act still withstands the test of time and is a model for the dozens of states that have yet to enact such a safety plan into law. Most every time a legislator or media person suggests a “new” proposal for school safety, it is already covered in our current safety drill act.

The challenge is to ensure that school administrators and first responders are informed of what is contained in the law and what their individual responsibilities are under the law. The most important aspect of the school safety plan is for local school district personnel to work with their local first responders in the formulation, training, and evaluation of the school safety procedures. Secondly, school officials should communicate with parents and community members to assure them that proper security measures are in force.

The School Safety Drill Act requires that certain school evacuation drills be performed at specified intervals. It also requires that school officials meet with local responders at least annually to review and evaluate crisis response plans, protocols, and procedures.

Time should be taken now to review your emergency operations plans. Make sure that they are comprehensive, meet the requirements of the drill act, are known to staff, and drilled with students. A quick guide on school safety measures can be found here – including access to the “Guide for Developing High Quality School Emergency Operations Plans.”

No one cares more about the safety and security of students within the school building than the school board members, teachers, and administrators that are charged with their wellbeing each day. Be proactive in improving your security measures and in reassuring your community that these are in place.