Know your state’s school safety requirements

Regulations tackle drills, safety plans, firearms and SROs, a new report shows.

A first-of-its-kind report breaks down the wide range of state laws that, to varying degrees, require districts to develop or upgrade school safety and security plans that cover firearms, school resource officers, safety audits and other issues.

The “50 State Comparison: K-12 School Safety” report features a year’s worth of research on state statutes and regulations on K-12 school safety from the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

“Obviously, school safety is top of mind for state policymakers,” says Jennifer Thomsen, the commission’s policy director. “We’ve been tracking school safety regulation since pre-Columbine, but this is the first time we’ve put it all together in one place and in one report.”

The study did not analyze district- or school-level policies. Nonetheless, district leaders should know how elected officials are responding to the rise in mass school shootings, natural disasters and other threats, she says.

“Understanding what states are doing and how prescriptive they are in terms of how they want districts to handle some of these issues is important, given that the actual implementation may fall to the district,” Thomsen says.

Prescriptive school safety actions

Most states require that school safety plans include certain elements, such as emergency drills and evacuations, incident response plans to acts of violence, and general policies for conduct and student discipline. At the same time, states are also tightening regulations as pressure mounts to protect students and staff from violence, Thomsen says. In 2018, 77 out of at least 296 school safety bills tracked by ECS were enacted to strengthen school building security and to encourage collaboration between schools and local law enforcement.

Among the key takeaways from the report:

  • At least 43 states and Washington, D.C., mandate that districts adopt a school safety plan. Most require districts to partner with law enforcement to craft the policies.
  • At least 13 states and Washington, D.C., require a local entity—such as a school board or district office—to conduct a safety audit of school facilities. At least five states require the involvement of law enforcement. Though most states did not specify a frequency, annual audits are typical. One state (Texas) mandates an inspection every three years.
  • In some 42 states, schools must conduct safety or security drills that cover lockdowns, sheltering in place, evacuations, active shooters and emergency preparedness. Other states require only handbooks and guides to be used in safety training.
  • Some states allow licensed adults to carry guns in school, while others prohibit all firearms. Some states let local authorities decide if weapons are allowed in school and who may carry them. Louisiana is the only state that lets students, if authorized by the school, possess firearms on school grounds.

Notably, no state has a mechanism for tracking how many adults are bringing guns onto campuses legally.

“On the issue of guns in schools, we found that it’s really, really complicated,” Thomsen says. “We still don’t know how many guns are in schools or if there are any guns in schools.”

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