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Changes to Safety Plans Required This Summer

On Board Online • May 23, 2016

By Jessica Goldstein
Deputy Director of Policy Services

Within the 2016 budget bill was a policy initiative with big implications for school districts. Six pages of text will impact district-wide school safety plans, including emergency response plans.

Every school district and BOCES in the state is affected by these requirements, which go into effect on July 1, 2016. The amendments involve Education Law sections 2801-a, 807, and 3604.

Safety and emergency plans in their present form have been required since the Project SAVE legislation of 2001, which was enacted in response to the Columbine school shooting. Below is a summary of the changes.

District-wide school safety plans
Section 2801-a requires a district-wide school safety plan developed by the district-wide school safety team. That is unchanged, as is a requirement that such plans address how the district will respond to implied or direct threats of violence by students, staff, and visitors. Now, in addition, such plans must address responding to threats of violence made by students against themselves, including suicide.

District-wide plans must still address contacting parents/guardians in the event of a violent incident. In addition, such plans now must also address contacting parents/guardians when students make threats of violence against themselves, including suicide.

District-wide plans must still address annual safety training for staff and students. In addition, districts now must certify to the commissioner of education that staff have received this annual training. Also, there are now more specific requirements for this training – it must cover the topics of violence prevention and mental health. New employees must be trained within 30 days of being hired. This training can be included in existing professional development or new hire training program.

Finally, the district-wide plans must now designate either the superintendent or superintendent’s designee as the “chief emergency officer” for the district. Under the amended law, this position is responsible for coordinating communication between school staff and law enforcement and first responders. The chief emergency officer must ensure that all district staff understand the district-wide safety plan, and is also responsible for ensuring that building-level emergency response plans (see below) are completed, reviewed annually and updated when needed.

District-wide school safety teams
Under the revised law, school boards must still designate district-wide school safety teams. This group is charged with developing the district-wide school safety plans (described above).

As in the past, this group must include representatives from the board, teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel and other school personnel. However, having a student member is now optional, not required. If a student is appointed a member of the district-wide team, care must be taken so that no confidential information (from either the district-wide plan or building-level plans) is shared with the student.

Building-level emergency response plans
In the old version of section 2801-a, there was some conflicting and overlapping terminology – “building level school safety plans” as well as “school emergency response plans.” Under the amended law, there is now one term: building-level emergency response plans.

Notably, these plans are now to be kept completely confidential. Also, districts are no longer required to make a summary of the building-level emergency response plan available for public comment prior to adoption or revision.

The amended law requires the plans to address sheltering and lock-downs in addition to evacuation. Building level emergency response plans still must include designation of an “emergency response team,” as well as “other appropriate incident response teams” and a “post-incident response team.” The only change here is that emergency response teams previously had to include local law enforcement officials, and now must include law enforcement officials (though not necessarily local) and must now include fire officials, too.

Building-level emergency response teams
Another small change in terminology is worth noting. What was once known as “building-level school safety team” is now known as “building-level emergency response team.” This team is designated by the building principal and includes representatives from teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel, other school personnel, community members, and emergency response agencies (see more below)

The building-level team is responsible for developing the building-level plan described above, reviewing the plan annually, and updating it as needed.

The makeup of this team is also slightly different under the amended law. Before, this team had to include a representative from local law enforcement officials and local ambulance agencies. Now, the team must include a representative from law enforcement officials (again, not necessarily local) Instead of ambulance representatives, the group must include fire officials.

It is important to note the distinction between the building-level emergency response team and the emergency response team. The building principal designates the building-level emergency response team, which develops the building-level emergency response plan, which includes designation of the emergency response team, which does the actual responding to emergencies.

School districts with a single building
A single safety plan used to suffice for school districts that have a single school building. Now, the default is that single-building school districts must develop separate district-wide and building-level plans described above. However, single-building districts can appeal to the commissioner of education to develop a single comprehensive plan instead.

This appeal process is to be developed by the State Education Department.

Fire and emergency drills
Education Law section 807 has required fire drills for many years, for both public and private schools. Twelve yearly, in fact. The requirement of 12 drills remains, but they are now called fire and emergency drills. The focus now is on appropriate emergency response, rather than just building evacuation. Previously, eight of these drills needed to be held between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1. Now, the first eight of a given school year must be completed by Dec. 31. What’s also new is that eight of the 12 drills must be evacuation drills, with four of those eight drills using fire escapes (if provided) or secondary exits. The other four of 12 drills must be lock-down drills. Drills must be conducted at different times of the school day.

Students must now be instructed on how to respond if a fire occurs during the lunch period or assembly. As an alternative to this instruction, a drill can be held during a lunch period or assembly.

Effect on school board policies
School board policies should be updated to reflect the change in state requirements. NYSSBA Policy Services offers a sample policy 8130, School Safety Plans and Teams. This policy is one we describe as a “Notice” policy, in that it gives notice of legal responsibilities by summarizing them.

NYSSBA Policy Services will be issuing an updated policy 8130 reflecting these changes via its Policy Update Service to subscribing districts. There may be additional changes to the associated commissioner’s regulations, which NYSSBA is monitoring.

In the meantime, it is more important for your school board to ensure that the district is meeting the new requirements under the law. And be sure to update policies as needed to reflect the new requirements

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