Planning requirements for shootings and emergency situations in New York City’s schools need to be more strictly enforced by New York City’s Department of Education (DOE), according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Auditors found DOE was lax in requiring that safety plans were filed on time by schools and policies did not routinely align regulations with state requirements, causing gaps and inconsistencies.
When auditors visited schools and examined safety plans, they found plans with incorrect or outdated contact information for key personnel, unarmed door alarms and radios that were turned off or were not working, among other issues.
“The state Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act aims to keep school children and teachers as safe as possible in a time of school shootings by requiring districts to plan for the unthinkable,” DiNapoli said. “While it’s clear the New York City Department of Education takes school safety seriously, there are gaps that must be addressed. Schools large and small need to do everything possible to protect students and teachers from senseless tragedy.”
"Protecting our city's children must be our highest priority, and we cannot wait for another national tragedy to act," said New York City Council Member Paul Vallone. "It is apparent we must do better to ensure our schools have comprehensive, universal and non-intrusive protocols in place to mitigate and respond to any unthinkable emergency threats to our students and teachers. For these reasons, I introduced a package of bills in the City Council to create a School Emergency Preparedness Task Force, which will be a critical tool to guide needed improvements to safety and emergency planning in our schools. I applaud Comptroller DiNapoli for conducting this audit and recognizing the importance of emergency preparedness in our schools."
The audit released today is part of DiNapoli’s initiative focused on educational issues, particularly school safety. Upcoming audits will look at safety planning at local districts across New York. An audit released in April examined the State Education Department’s (SED) monitoring of compliance with school safety requirements at school districts outside New York City.
The Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act, enacted in 2000, mandates training and instruction for preventing and responding to incidents of school violence and establishes a statewide uniform system for reporting violent incidents.
The SAVE Act also requires public school districts, charter schools and BOCES programs to develop comprehensive district-wide safety plans and building-level emergency response plans. SED regulations were also developed to provide additional guidance and details on school safety planning requirements. The requirements outlined in the law and regulations apply to public schools and districts, but not to private schools.
In an audit of New York City’s DOE, DiNapoli’s auditors examined its efforts to oversee implementation of the SAVE Act, as well as the safety planning of 25 of the city’s 1,800 schools.
They found city regulations, which guide the DOE’s process for collecting, reviewing, and approving school safety plans, do not always align with the superseding SAVE Act and state regulations. For example, DOE does not require school safety plans to be submitted within the time frames specified in the state regulations, which require adoption by Sept. 1 and transmittal to law enforcement within 30 days. Under DOE rules, plans can be submitted almost 2½ months after the typical beginning of a school year. Even then, some schools did not submit their plans on time.
Additionally, the audit found evidence of lax compliance with several aspects of the SAVE Act, including:
- Attendance at the monthly School Safety Committee meeting required by the city was poor. One school had only one or two of its 11 members in attendance for nine of its 10 meetings;
- DOE did not require schools to submit floor plans, which state regulations identify as a critical part of school safety planning and emergency response. Three of the 25 plans sampled were outdated and missing information regarding construction modifications;
- School safety plans were not stored in secured locations as required by state law and regulations, and one plan included an incorrect main phone number for the school and incorrectly listed key personnel;
- Five of the schools did not conduct the minimum amount of evacuation or lockdown drills, and for the 2016-17 school year, three of the schools didn’t conduct the drills in the required time frames;
- Missing information from the district-wide safety plan, including: procedures to test drills in coordination with local emergency responders; policies and procedures for responding to implied or direct threats of violence by visitors to the school; a description of school safety personnel duties, as well as the hiring and screening process for, and the training required of all personnel acting in a school security capacity; and policies and procedures for annual multi-hazard school safety training for staff and students; and
- While DOE works closely with, and submits its plans to the New York City Police Department, it has failed to submit the plans to the State Police, as required under the SAVE Act.
For the past three school years, DOE reported 219 school lockdowns and 684 instances in which students and staff had to shelter-in-place – more than three times the number of lockdowns. Shelter-in-place is a response to an emergency situation in which occupants seek safety within the building rather than evacuate. While shelter-in-place drills are not required by SED, auditors note that data supports the value of conducting them and urged DOE to consider this for future planning.
DiNapoli recommended DOE:
- Review and amend the city regulations to ensure they align and comply with the state regulations and guidance;
- Work with SED to develop a process to submit school safety plans to the State Police and establish a system to ensure that up-to-date building floor plans are submitted as part of the plans;
- Review school safety committee meeting information submitted by schools to ensure the meetings take place and cover meaningful safety information. Establish a minimum number or percentage of committee members to be in attendance for each meeting;
- Ensure that its review of safety plans addresses accuracy and completeness;
- Review procedures for monitoring emergency drills to ensure that all drills required by law are completed within the required time frames; and
- Incorporate relevant outside documentation into the district plans, including how drills are tested with local and county emergency responders and other preparedness officials.
DOE officials, in responding to the audit, agreed to conduct a thorough review of department practices to ensure compliance. A copy of their response is included in the audit.
Read the audit, or go to: https://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2019-18n2.pdf
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