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At a recent legislative committee, lawmakers heard about the lack of school safety plans in districts across the state. But district and state leaders say they have plans. Learn more about the complicated state of school safety plans in North Carolina.
A few weeks ago, headlines from a legislative committee spoke of a lack of school safety plans across the state. But according to district and state leaders, schools have some sort of safety plan, but not always plans that the state has in its systems.
The presentation in early June by Karen Fairley, director of the Center for Safer Schools at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, included the fact that there had been 431 reports of planned school attacks since August 2021 and that 254 of them were considered credible. She also reported that nearly a third of schools in the state have yet to submit a School Risk Management Plan (SRMP), which is required by law. And of those who had submitted a plan, only 5% were deemed acceptable.
But additional context is important here.
To begin with, as part of each school’s school improvement plan, a school safety plan is needed. And that’s different from the SRMPs that Fairley was telling lawmakers about.
In a follow-up interview, Fairley said she thinks almost every school in the state has a safety plan.
“I never said, ‘Oh, they don’t have security plans,'” she said. “I said ‘We don’t have them in the system.'”
This is where SRMPs come into play. Fairley said that in 2015, the state’s emergency response app went into effect requiring schools to incorporate their building diagrams into the system. Once these schematics are uploaded, an SRMP would be opened. The plan basically sets out what a school would do in the event of an emergency.
“What should I do in the event of a tornado? What should I do if my school is near a chemical plant and there is a spill at the chemical plant? she said, adding, “The school’s risk management plan is for more than just active shooter.”
But Moore County Schools Superintendent Tim Locklair said that while he and other superintendents were aware of SRMPs, they were never told there was a deadline or even an obligation to turn in anything. thing.
“From our point of view, we have not been communicated and have not received any information,” he said.
Locklair said that as part of his district’s school safety plans, the diagrams are already shared with local law enforcement, and that the district and schools are working closely on school safety with law enforcement. law enforcement and other community organizations, in addition to the local civil service department. Security.
He said he was surprised when he read media reports about the legislative committee where information about school safety was shared.
“It raised our concern,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the public knew, as well as the state legislature and parents, how seriously we take school safety.”
Locklair also said it was confusing that there were two separate school safety related requirements for schools.
“I think it would make sense for there to be a plan that serves both purposes,” he said.
And Fairley said it’s possible a plan could serve both purposes. Fulfilling the requirement could be as simple as simply uploading the already developed school safety plan into the system. Some minimum requirements may require districts to do additional work, but getting the plans they’ve already uploaded is a good start, she said.
Chatham County Schools Superintendent Tony Jackson echoed Locklair’s sentiments regarding the district’s planning for school safety. He said his district has strong security plans that loop through law enforcement and provide them with building schematics. And they are reviewed regularly.
“For us, it’s an ongoing process,” he said. “We are not waiting for an incident to occur. We are constantly refining and updating our processes.
He said he heard from his staff that uploading the plans to the SRMP system had proven difficult.
“What my parents tell me is that there were some stumbles,” he said. “I know our people have tried and failed.”
Fairley said some of the miscommunication may stem from the fact that by the time the 2015 requirement went into effect, there was a turnover of staff overseeing the system.
“The person who was at the DPS [Department of Public Safety] who kind of set up this system retired, and to be completely honest, I think that’s where the fallout went,” she said.
But, Fairley said in June 2021, his staff began sending messages to district security directors saying they needed to work on this. Additionally, that summer the requirement was also mentioned at a Safe Schools Summit. Additionally, there were quarterly Security Director meetings where the issue was discussed, as well as numerous emails that were sent.
In January, she said the Center for Safer Schools and DPS decided to offer free training because they heard about some of the problems people were having downloading blueprints.
The training was offered every Monday and Tuesday online from January to March, then in March the training was offered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The meetings were recorded and sent to the participants.
“I don’t think any of our schools have [a school safety plan]. I believe they have a plan. I just know they’re not all in the system,” she said. “I want the plans in the system so they can be compliant.”
She said she understands there was a breakdown in communication. That’s why in 2021, she and other staff began working to help districts integrate their plans into the system.
Most of the state’s contacts on the matter have already been with school district security directors. Fairley said it’s possible there was a breakdown in communication between district security directors and their superintendents on the matter, but she isn’t sure. It is also possible that turnover among school safety directors contributed to the communication problem.
“The school has a lot to deal with, and we empathize with that. We really are,” she said. “I don’t know where the breakdown is.”
But she is making efforts to try to improve communication with the superintendents. There’s a back-to-school safety conference August 1-5 in Greensboro, and she said the Center for Safer Schools and DPS will try there to figure out “who’s got what.”
She said if her staff were to offer training again, that was fine with her. She also said she and her staff will begin following up with district superintendents on the matter after initially communicating with district security directors.
But she wants to be clear about the district’s efforts to keep children safe.
“I believe schools do a great job of safety, and I would never say they don’t have safety plans,” she said.
Jackson also wanted to reiterate that point.
“I want everyone to understand that safety is never an afterthought for school leaders,” he said. “There is nothing more important than being able to bring students back every day in the same or better shape than their parents dropped them off at us.”