Pennsylvania schools have less than two weeks to complete the state’s first school safety survey.
The new School Safety and Security Committee distributed the survey October 15, with a due date of November 30 for its completion looming.
The survey is intended to provide the state with information about school safety across the Commonwealth. A secondary purpose is to assist the new committee in making determinations for Part B grant awards. The committee will gather data based on the surveys and then permit schools to review and amend Part B grant applications based on information gathered from the surveys. The committee may find that your student assistance program is deficient in some areas. If you did not apply for Part B grant funding for that program or deficiency, you will be able to revise your grant application. The revision process will allow Part B grant applicants to target grant requests to areas that the committee identifies as a priority.
Survey responses are exempt from Right-to-Know requests and will remain confidential. The committee recommends assembling a team to compile survey answers. After the information has been compiled and reviewed, it should be submitted on the Survey Monkey website. Note that despite giving this advice, the committee requires every question to be answered prior to moving on to the next question. You may be able to preview the questions by entering partial answers or “draft” in text boxes in order to move on to the next screen.
One component of your survey response is the submission of any school safety and security assessments that were completed from 2015 to now. If your school has not engaged in any type of safety or security assessment since 2015 then you do not need to make a submission.
If you have engaged in a school safety and security assessment in the past three years then you need to submit copies of that assessment with your survey. Even though your prior school safety assessments likely did not meet the Act 44 requirements, you are still required to submit the assessment materials. Act 44 did not fund your prior assessment and the assessment criteria was non-existent, so the state does not expect your prior assessment to meet its standards. For example, you may have worked with your county’s emergency management department to conduct a physical safety assessment of your buildings. Act 44 requires local law enforcement involvement, so if you did not collaborate with your local police department then your assessment would not be Act 44 compliant. The committee would still like to review the assessment as part of your survey submission even though it doesn’t meet the committee’s requirements.
It is also understood that you would not have relied on an Act 44 compliant vendor to conduct the school safety assessment in the past. The online application process for Act 44 vendors opened in October. As of the date of the state’s memorandum, no approved vendors appear on the registry; however, the committee is encouraging vendors to apply.
Moving forward, school safety and security assessments funded by Act 44 grant awards will have to meet the state’s requirements. As a reminder, Act 44 does not mandate school safety and security assessments. If you receive Act 44 grant funding for the purpose of conducting a school safety and security assessment, however, your assessment must meet the committee’s requirements. Act 44 envisions a more comprehensive safety and security assessment that also will evaluate policy and training as well as student assistance and health support. The vendor provider registry will allow you to filter vendors by which type of assessment you need. Many Act 44 grant applicants focused primarily on physical security and other “hard” security measures. If your Part B grant application focused on physical security but the committee reviews your survey response and suggests that your physical security measures are adequate, then you should consider revising your Part B grant application. Your revisions could include an application for assessments of your policy and training or student assistance and behavioral health support programs. If approved for that assessment, you will be able to narrow your vendor search to organizations that assess those measures rather than on physical security.
The school safety and security assessments are not mandatory but risk and vulnerability assessments are required under Act 44. Expect correspondence in spring 2019 regarding the risk and vulnerability assessments to be conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police. Note that the state police will prioritize assessments of entities with a high market value/income aid ratio and conduct those assessments first.
Finally, remember that school safety requirements extend beyond Act 44. Act 55 of 2017 requires schools to conduct a school security drill within the first 90 days of the school year. A school security drill is “a planned exercise, other than a fire drill or natural disaster drill, designed to practice procedures to respond to an emergency situation that may include, but is not limited to, an act of terrorism, armed intruder situation or other violent threat,” according to the act. The law requires schools to conduct the drill in coordination with local police and local emergency management departments. The law also requires you to notify parents and guardians about the upcoming drill. While student participation is important, some parents may anticipate that participation in a drill of this nature will be traumatic. To encourage participation, use care when describing the drill and when training staff and students prior to drill participation. Record participation by staff and students in the drill when it occurs. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools’ All-Hazards School Planning Toolkit contains resources and templates specifically for planning this type of drill.