As the new school year gets into full swing following the Labor Day weekend, school district officials are working feverishly to assure compliance with the numerous obligations arising out of state and federal law mandates. The volume of notices and disclosures that school districts are required to provide to students, parents, and various state and federal regulators is, at times daunting. In addition, state and federal laws require school boards to develop plans for specific purposes and to receive, review, and approve various reports annually or semi-annually. With the sheer volume of these, it can be difficult to feel confident that all of the requirements are completed as required.

One such requirement is to develop a “school safety plan”, which includes the need for drilling to practice implementation of the school safety plan in the event of a school violence incident, and reporting of such plans and drills to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of School Safety (DOJ-OSS). Recent media reports suggested that many schools are out of compliance with this requirement and, although it is unclear whether that is true, it is worth taking a few moments to discuss the requirement.

School Safety Plan

 Wis. Stat. §118.7(4) requires that school boards approve a school safety plan. The plan must be developed with input from “appropriate parties,” as designated by the board following an on-site safety assessment of each building in consultation with local law enforcement. The plan must include several specific elements:

  • General guidelines specifying procedures for emergency prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery;
  • Guidelines and procedures to address school violence and attacks, threats of school violence and attacks, bomb threats, fire, weather-related emergencies, intruders, parent-student reunification, and threats to non-classroom events, including recess, concerts and other performances, athletic events, and any other extracurricular activity or event; and
  • The process for reviewing the methods for conducting drills required to comply with the plan

In addition to those elements, the law also identifies items that may not be included in the safety plan. Those items are:

  • A requirement that an employee contact a school administrator or other person before calling 911 [Note: the plan may and should require that school administration be notified after 911 is contacted];
  • A prohibition against any person reporting school violence or a threat of school violence directly to law enforcement; and
  • A prohibition against an employee reporting a suspicious individual or activity directly to law enforcement.

Each plan must identify who is to receive training on the plan and how frequently the training will be provided. This training must take into account the prioritized needs, risks, and vulnerabilities of each specific school. [1]

Each plan must be filed with local law enforcement serving the jurisdiction in which any covered building is located and with the DOJ-OSS. In addition, while each school safety plan must be reviewed and approved at least every three (3) years, each school safety plan must also be submitted to the DOJ-OSS prior to January 1 each year. When submitted, the plan must be accompanied by the following:

  • The date of the annual school violence event drill or drills held during the previous year;
  • Certification that a written evaluation of the drill or drills was reviewed by the board;
  • The date of the most recent training on the school safety plans, and the attendees;
  • The most recent date the current school safety plans have been reviewed and approved; and
  • The most recent date on which the school board consulted with local law enforcement to conduct on-site safety assessments.

The initial plans were required to be in place prior to January 1, 2019, and, as noted, must be submitted annually. Once the report is submitted, it is advisable to retain a record of the reports’ timely submission to the DOJ-OSS so that compliance can be readily verified if necessary.

Required School Safety Drills

 State law requires that every school conduct a variety of drills each year. Specifically, schools must conduct regular fire drills; at least twice per year drill students in evacuation to a safe location in the event of a tornado or other hazard; and at least twice per year conduct drills in the appropriate action in the event of a school safety incident. At least once annually, schools must conduct a drill to implement the school safety plan in the event of a school violence event. It is important to note that the school safety incident drills may substitute for a required tornado or fire drill, and the school violence drill may be substituted for a school safety incident drill; however, schools may not substitute any type of drill for the once annual required school violence drill. These drills must be conducted in each building in which students are regularly present.

While tornado and school safety incident drills are typically to be conducted “without warning”, the school violence drill does not need to be conducted without prior warning. Following the school violence event drill, the school must prepare a written evaluation of the drill and submit it to the school board within thirty (30) calendar days of the drill. The board’s approved evaluation of each drill must be submitted to the DOJ-OSS as part of the annual report described above. The law requires that records of fire drills, tornado drills, and school safety incident drills be kept for seven (7) years and, while no specific retention period is prescribed by statute or within the records retention schedule adopted by school board for the school violence event drill, it is advisable to retain those too for at least seven (7) years.

Conclusion

 The adoption, review, and annual reporting of a school safety plan, along with proper school violence event drills and other required drills must be performed by every school. Maintaining compliance with these requirements is evidenced by the submission of the annual report to the DOJ-OSS. It is important that school districts fulfill this obligation and maintain the records of the reports and related submissions so they are accessible in the event they are requested.

[1] Training provided to select school staff members regarding the school safety plan pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 118.07(4)(c) is distinct from the training that all employees must receive in identifying children who have been abused or neglected and reporting requirements, as well as training on the laws requiring reporting of a threat of violence. This training required by Wis. Stat. § 118.07(5) must be provided to all new hires within six months of hire and every five years thereafter.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author,

or your Renning, Lewis & Lacy attorney.

Geoffrey A. Lacy

Geoffrey A. Lacy

glacy@law-rll.com | 844-833-0824