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Emergency Management 9


Recommendations

  1. School districts should develop new school safety plans or expand existing plans to include a response to domestic terrorism.
  1. The Texas School Safety Center at Southwest Texas State University should develop or contract for model school safety plans for small, medium and large size school districts.
  1. The Texas School Safety Center should expand its services to include planning for domestic terrorism.


Summary

Nationally, many school districts and campuses developed school safety plans after the1999 student shootings at Colombine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In California, where schools were required to develop safety plans, administrators report that these plans have been effective for dealing with more recent school shootings.[1]

The disastrous events that occurred in New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001 necessitate a change in the manner in which school district and campus administrators define and plan for school safety. In prior years, school safety issues have focused primarily on threats from within the schools, such as gangs or shootings. Preparing for events similar to the September 11 catastrophes requires a broader focus, which includes an examination of external threats to school safety, such as domestic terrorism. Ronald Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center, predicts that schools may experience increased bomb threats and hate crimes after September 11 and should review their school safety plans accordingly.[2]

In New York, Chancellor Harold Levy reported that he was not happy with the safety plans on file in the New York City schools after the World Trade Center attacks. For example, several telephone systems collapsed in local schools due to the high volume of calls coming in from panicked parents. Chancellor Levy has announced the formation of a task force to review the New York City school district’s emergency plans to address any future citywide emergency.[3]

In Texas, school district administrators in Houston are also wondering if they are adequately prepared to address a large-scale emergency. School officials in the Houston Independent School District are meeting to discuss whether there is a need for new emergency plans. The Pasadena Independent School District in Houston has called the Israeli consulate general’s office to learn about safety measures on campuses in Israel.[4]

In Georgia, state law requires school districts to develop school safety plans that address issues such as terrorism, radiological accidents, school shootings and gang activities. These safety plans must be designed in consultation and placed on file with local emergency management agencies. Aerial maps and detailed diagrams of each campus, with every doorway marked, must be filed with local emergency agencies. The plans must include live drills and exercises so that everyone knows their role in an emergency.[5]

Texas law does not require school districts to develop a school safety plan, although schools may have a school safety or crisis management plan in place. Since there is no state requirement for a school safety plan, it is not known how many school districts have a plan.

The Texas School Safety Center was established by the Texas Education Code (Chapter 37, Subchapter G) to provide training and technical assistance on the prevention of school violence on Texas campuses. Specific activities include safety training programs, a school safety summit, safety and security audit procedures, on-site technical assistance and model agreements for services to at-risk students. The center serves as a grant-funded organization within the Governor’s Office. It is authorized by statute to accept gifts, grants and donations from the public. These services are primarily designed to address internal threats to school security such as gangs and shootings.

The services of this center should be expanded to provide targeted training, technical assistance and support to Texas school districts in the wake of the new threats to campus safety revealed on September 11. The Texas School Safety Center should expand its services to include model school district safety plans and school district planning for domestic terrorism.


Legislative Changes Required

Texas Education Code, Chapter 37, “Discipline; Law and Order,” should be amended to include a new subchapter on school safety plans. School districts should be required to develop and annually update school safety plans that address internal and external threats to security, including school shootings, gangs and domestic terrorism. These plans should be designed in consultation and filed with local emergency management officials, as should school building design plans. The effectiveness of the plans should be tested with practice drills.

Chapter 37, Subchapter G of the Texas Education Code, “Texas School Safety Center,” should be amended to require the Texas School Safety Center at Southwest Texas State University to develop, either by its own staff or via contract with another organization, model school safety plans appropriate for small, medium and large Texas school district.

Chapter 37, Subchapter G of the Texas Education Code, “Texas School Safety Center,” should be amended to expand the services of the Texas School Safety Center to include planning for acts of terrorism that occur on or near school campuses.


Fiscal Impact

School districts may use local funds, state compensatory education funds or federal Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities monies to expand existing or develop new school safety plans. The costs of developing these plans will vary by many factors, including school district size, populations to be served and number of issues to be addressed.

The estimated cost to General Revenue for the Texas School Safety Center to develop model school safety plans (one each for small, medium and large school districts) is a one-time cost of $100,000. This activity may be conducted by the Center or through contract with the Center.

The estimated cost to General Revenue for the Texas School Safety Center to provide training in domestic terrorism is $125,000 per year. This is the amount appropriated to the Texas School Safety Center in the prior legislative session. It is estimated that expanding services to planning for domestic terrorism will require the same amount as the previous appropriation.


[1] David Dugar and Diane Zabel, “Crisis Intervention in Public Schools,” Reference and User Services Quarterly (June 22, 2001).

[2] Karla Reed and Catherine Gewertz, “As Crisis Unfolds, Educators Balance Intricate Demands,” Education Week (September 19, 2001): http://www.edweek.org/ew/newstory.cfm?slug=03impact.h21.

[3] Edward Wyatt, “Levy Orders Review of Schools’ Crisis Plans, Citing Communications,” New York Times (September 25, 2001), Section A, p. 20.

[4] Salatheia Bryant, “Educators Ponder Emergency Plans,” Houston Chronicle (October 1, 2001): http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/1069584.

[5]Doug Cumming, “Raising the Grade, Honing Safety Plans Tops Schools’ Agenda,” Atlanta Constitution, July 3, 1999, Local News, p. 1-G.