6 Tips for Staying on Top of School Safety Requirements
Learn what your school district needs to know about adopting or amending an emergency operations plan.
With safety top of mind for everyone – especially parents and staff – trustees should take the time to review what their district is doing and collaborate with administration to ensure that all requirements and best practices are being followed. This includes reviewing planning documents and safety and security practices.
To help with that process, here are six considerations for trustees:
1. Know Who Is Serving on Your District’s School Safety and Security Committee.
To the extent possible, the list of required participants includes parents, at least one classroom teacher, the superintendent, law enforcement representatives, and representatives from an office of emergency management, among others. But just as important, this committee should include the school board president and a school board member other than the president.
“The board may want to select which board members will serve on the committee and the length of that appointment while leaving the other appointments to the administration,” said TASB's Education Counsel Joy Baskin.
2. Make Sure That Committee Meets Regularly.
Under state law, these committees are required to meet at least three times a year with one of those meetings happening over the summer.
3. Understand Where Your District Is In the Cycle of Creating, Reviewing, and Amending Its Required EOP.
Since 2005, the Texas Education Code has required every school district to adopt and implement an emergency operations plan (EOP). This laid the framework for the multi-hazard operations plans that schools now submit to the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC). TASB's Risk Management Fund, as well as the TxSSC, provides resources and templates to help districts develop those EOPs.
State law requires these plans to have detailed provisions that address physical and psychological safety of district staff and students in the district’s response to dangerous situations, including a natural disaster or active shooter.
Every three years, the district should conduct a safety and security audit of the district’s facilities to identify opportunities for improvements in providing a safe learning and working environment. Be sure to review your district’s EOP and ask about the audit.
4. Ask Your School District Attorney to Review What Information About Your District’s EOP Is Subject to Disclosure Under the Texas Public Information Act.
School districts have seen more requests from parents and members of the media to release their EOP or safety and security audits, but legally these requests are complicated. In short, Texas law does not require that school districts disclose any information that could serve as a blueprint to help those seeking to do harm or gain illegal access to school district facilities.
But while the law offers plenty of exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act, including the identities of employees designated as school marshals, there are some aspects of EOPs that are releasable to the public, including certification that the district’s plan was reviewed within the last 12 months and addresses the five phases of emergency management as defined by law.
In some cases, available templates for EOPs offer the ability to organize all the disclosable information in one section of the plan so that districts can easily distribute that part to members of the public who request it.
To learn about the items a district must make available, see TASB’s detailed guidance on adopting and implementing a multi-hazard EOP (pdf).
5. Complete Your School Safety Training as Required by State Law.
This training requirement is intended to introduce board members to legislative requirements and best practices for safety and security in public schools. The class is available online and takes about two hours. Visit the TEA website to enroll.
New board members must complete this training within the first 120 days of their tenure. Existing board members must complete this training every other year.
6. Be Prepared to Answer Questions From Parents and the Public About the School Marshal and School Guardian Programs.
In recent years, some school boards in Texas have exercised local authority to grant permission to designated employees to carry handguns on campus. Options include the statutorily created school marshal program and local policies informally known as a “guardian” program.
In the week after the Uvalde shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath urging him to find ways to encourage more school districts to increase the number of school marshals and other law enforcement officers on school grounds.
“In the wake of this devastating crime, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that our schools provide a safe and secure environment for the children of Texas,” Abbott wrote.
Board trustees should be prepared to hear from more parents, staff, and community members asking about these programs so it’s important to get up to speed on both, Baskin said. Even before Uvalde, more than 300 school districts had adopted local policies that authorize designated individuals to be armed inside of school premises, she noted.
“Since Uvalde, we know there are more conversations among school boards that could see the number of participating districts increase,” she said. “It’s essential that trustees have a full understanding of the potential risks and benefits of these options.”
To learn more about school marshals and other school district personnel carrying firearms, see TASB’s detailed guidance on adopting and implementing a multi-hazard EOP (pdf).