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Takeaways from the 2018 Vermont School Safety Assessment Survey

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compiled by Larry Floersch

How safe are Vermont’s kids in school?

After the tragedy at Parkland High School in Florida, Governor Scott directed the Vermont State Police and Vermont Emergency Management, in coordination with the Vermont School Safety Center, the Agency of Education, and local, county, and state law enforcement officers, to conduct security assessments of all public, independent, and tutorial schools in the state. These assessments were done during March of 2018. On April 13, 2018, Thomas D. Anderson, the Commissioner of Public Safety, released the results of the assessment survey, which was completed by 98 percent of the public schools and 88 percent of the private and tutorial schools in the state.

On the plus side, 96 percent of schools always or almost always comply with the School Emergency Drill Schedule set up by the Agency of Education and the Division of Fire Safety. The same percentage of schools have participated in emergency preparedness initiatives with local first responders.

Ninety-two percent of schools educate faculty, staff, and students on emergency response protocols before or at the beginning of the school year. This includes the adoption of the Vermont School Safety Center’s standard response protocol of “Lockdown, Lockout, Evacuate, and Shelter,” which ensures all students and faculty and staff members are using consistent emergency response terminology when responding to a school emergency.

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Eighty-six percent of schools have the ability to make internal public address announcements, and the same percentage have developed or are in the process of developing a Family Reunification Plan in the event of an emergency. A similar number of schools (85 percent) have a system in place to identify, report, and evaluate school threats or persons exhibiting a concerning behavior.

But there’s lots of room for improvement. For example, the assessment found that close to half of all schools do not require faculty and staff members to wear ID badges. This makes it difficult to determine who should or should not be in a school building.

A large number of schools (44 percent) have not communicated with parents or guardians what to do in case of an emergency. This means parents may actually impede a rapid response to a dangerous situation.

Close to 20 percent of schools are not using an options-based response protocol to an active shooter situation. That protocol allows individuals a variety of options in responding to an active shooter based on immediate conditions.

And 17 percent of schools do not lock exterior doors during the school day.

Technology deficits also loom large. For example, 70 percent of schools do not have the ability to lock internal classroom and office doors from the inside.

In slightly more than 50 percent of schools there is no way to broadcast public address announcements outside the school, which would allow officials to warn students and faculty on playgrounds or athletic fields of a situation.

And half of all schools do not have labels on the outside of exterior doors (“Gym,” “Auditorium,” etc.) that would allow first responders to locate specific areas within the building from the outside.

Based on the findings of the assessment, the Vermont School Safety Center in collaboration with the Vermont School Crisis Planning Team is developing an updated comprehensive list of school safety best practices and will use the data from the assessment to reinforce existing strengths and develop strategies to address the gaps in school safety.

The governor’s plan also calls for making grant funding in the amount of $5 million available to schools for security infrastructure upgrades and school safety planning.

The memo to the governor and the summary report in graphical form are available at schoolsafety.vermont.gov/news/2018-vermont-school-safety-survey