Schools are not doing enough to prepare for emergency situations like shootings, according to an audit of safety planning at 19 schools released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
Auditors found none of the schools met the minimum planning or training requirements of the State Education Department (SED), which oversees safety planning for schools. Alarmingly, two schools did not have district-wide safety plans even though plans were mandated nearly 20 years ago.
“New York’s schools must be better prepared for emergencies and violent incidents. My auditors looked at a sample of big and small schools in urban, suburban and rural settings. We found too many schools had gaps in their safety plans that could leave them unprepared if a shooting or life-threatening incident occurred,” DiNapoli said. “Helping our schools get strong safety plans in place will require more guidance and more resources from state policymakers. I urge the State Education Department to re-engage the NYS Safe Schools Task Force to make sure our children and school personnel are safe. Emergency planning must be a priority for all New York schools.”
This audit is part of DiNapoli’s initiative focused on educational issues. His auditors have completed three audits that examined safety planning at more than 40 school districts. The audits have found significant problems at schools, including no safety plans, plans filled with errors and plans not being shared with local law enforcement.
In New York, 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 safety plans and building-level emergency response plans. SED regulations were developed to provide additional guidance and details on school safety planning requirements. The requirements outlined in the law and regulations do not apply to private schools.
For the audit released today, DiNapoli’s auditors looked at safety planning efforts at 16 school districts and two charter schools from 2017 to 2018, and 2019 for one school district. These entities include: Argyle Central School District, Candor Central School District, Commack Union Free School District, East Meadow Union Free School District, Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District, Genesee Community Charter School, Green Tech High Charter School, Haverstraw-Stony Point Central School District, Hendrick Hudson Central School District, Indian River Central School District, Lancaster Central School District, Levittown Union Free School District, Longwood Central School District, Naples Central School District, Niagara Falls City School District, Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District, Schenectady City School District, Syracuse City School District, and Wappingers Central School District.
- Two schools did not have safety plans and 17 others had incomplete safety plans. None of the schools met all 19 minimum safety plan requirements. Overall, half the safety plan requirements were met, but seven schools did not meet a majority of the requirements. For instance, most schools did not designate a chief emergency officer in their safety plans or identify duties for this critical position. They also did not include specifics on how they would collaborate with state and local law enforcement officials.
- Sixteen school boards did not adopt a safety plan within the time requirements, properly submit it to SED or give the public the opportunity for input. Thirteen schools did not hold a public hearing on the safety plan or offer a public comment period.
- Eighteen schools either did not have a safety team or did not have all the required members.
- No schools met all of the annual safety training requirements, yet they certified to SED that they trained staff.
Because of the sensitive nature of the findings, the Comptroller’s office will not publicly release school-specific details. However, it has released two confidential audits to each school district and SED: one on examining district-wide safety plans and one on building-level emergency response plans. Auditors made a series of general recommendations as part of the audit and specific recommendations in the confidential reports given to each school district.
School boards are required to seek public input on their safety plans, including holding a 30-day comment period and adopting safety plans by Sept. 1. The Comptroller encourages school boards to publicly discuss how they are addressing the audit findings as they prepare for the upcoming school year. By law, building-level emergency response plans are deemed confidential and details cannot be shared.
Although nine schools did not respond to the public audit, two schools suggested the formation of a communication platform to foster school safety communication and collaboration. See the audit for more commentary.
DiNapoli’s office has also probed the reporting of bullying, discrimination, harassment and violence at schools, which are often the underlying causes that can lead to major incidents if not addressed.
Prior school safety audits include:
Audit of State Education Department Oversight (released in April): https://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2019-18s34.pdf.
Audit of NYC Planning (released in June): https://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2019-18n2.pdf.
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