A statewide safety assessment of 422 schools conducted by local, county, and state law enforcement in partnership with Vermont schools shows that 96 percent of Vermont schools take part in emergency preparedness activities. The Department of Public Safety and Agency of Education have submitted a report summarizing the results of the assessment and recommendations to Governor Phil Scott, highlighting school preparedness strengths and areas for improvement.
Governor Scott ordered the assessments after an alleged school shooting plot was uncovered and averted in Fair Haven this past February.
In total, 172 law enforcement officers from 50 local police agencies, seven sheriff’s departments, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, and every Vermont State Police barracks worked with school administrators to review emergency plans and procedures throughout the month of March.
“The coordination and sense of shared purpose between law enforcement and schools is the result of years of relationship building through the Vermont School Crisis Center,” Governor Scott said. “Many of the findings in this assessment are encouraging, but we also learned a lot about what needs to be done to make our kids safer in school. This assessment is not the end of the process; it’s the beginning.”
The study finds disparities in the degree of school emergency preparedness statewide. While the reporting schools take part in required safety drills, the use of controlled access points, the availability of cameras and the ability to lock internal classroom doors vary widely depending on the school. Most Vermont schools engage in some type of emergency planning activities, and many would like even more training on active shooters, behavioral threat assessment, the incident command system and other topics.
The report noted several strengths that highlight the work done by many schools in partnership with the Vermont School Safety Center and School Crisis Planning Team. It stated 92 percent of reporting schools educate faculty, staff, and students on emergency response protocols prior to the beginning of the school year. However, 44 percent have not communicated with parents or guardians about specifically what they should and should not do during an emergency at school. For example, parents are often asked to stay away from school during emergencies.
The study specifically identified the following issues and recommendations for improvement:
Best practices. The Vermont School Safety Center in collaboration with the Vermont School Crisis Planning Team will develop and distribute an updated comprehensive list of school safety best practices.
Planning. The survey results showed further development of school crisis plans is needed to ensure schools are prepared to respond to the wide range of hazards and threats they may be exposed to. One million dollars of Homeland Security Grant funding will be allocated to significantly enhance planning efforts.
Training. Utilizing the Homeland Security funding, the Department of Public Safety will significantly enhance the Vermont School Safety Center training program to ensure schools receive the volume of training and exercises they need.
Technology/equipment. The survey results verified that schools have varying needs for capital improvements to enhance the physical security of their campuses. The assessment will be used as a guide to help direct $4-million dollars requested by the Governor that will be earmarked to make security upgrades to school facilities. In order to execute this initiative, a working group with representatives from the school community, emergency services and state personnel will develop a recommended equipment and technology list that schools should consider when applying for these school safety grants.
“The governor is committed to getting these grants out to schools as quickly as possible,” Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson said. “Our goal is to award the capital grants by Aug. 1, the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.”
The grant application process will begin June 1 and applications will be due July 1.
The entire report can be viewed at schoolsafety.vermont.gov/news/2018-vermont-school-safety-survey.