Post-Newtown legislation would require schools to have safety plans
By Gary Walker
State Sen. Ted Lieu is reintroducing legislation that would make it mandatory for school districts to put together emergency response plans.
Shortly after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school districts around the nation have been upgrading or reevaluating existing procedures for lockdowns and evacuation plans.
“Currently, the state does not have accurate figures on how many public schools have established school-safety plans that outline emergency steps that must be taken immediately should something horrible occur,” said Lieu, whose district includes schools within District 4 on the Westside.
“As of last year, no district has ever been fined for failing to report a school that has not developed a school-safety plan. As a result, too many schools either have no school-safety plan or have failed to update or disseminate their plan.”
The senator introduced Senate Bill 49 shortly after the Newtown killings.
The Los Angeles Unified School District says it has evacuation plans as well as procedures for emergencies such as what happened in Newtown.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents schools in Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Venice, advocates spot checks on safety plans at schools as well as considering other things like video monitoring.
“Any moment of crisis demands that we check our safety and earthquake kit, as it were, and the most important piece of that is preparation,” he said.
Data from the school accountability report card showed in 2009, the latest data found, that 32.5 percent, or 25 out of 77 public middle schools in Los Angeles have no safety plan at all. Another 16 had outdated plans and/or failed to review them with staff. In all, the noncompliance rate reported was 53.2 percent.
Every campus within the Los Angeles Unified School District has a safety plan, according to district officials. Since the Newtown tragedy, the Los Angeles Police Department has deployed hundreds of officers to many LAUSD campuses. At Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, police officers have been on campus since Jan. 7.
The California Education Code Section 35294.6(b) requires each school to report in July on the status of its school safety plan (including a description of the plan’s key elements) in the annual school accountability report card prepared pursuant to Education Code Sections 33126 et seq. and 35256 et seq.
“There should be a district-wide statement of philosophy, an enabling policy, and guidelines that serve as a foundation for safe school plans created by individual schools,” states the website of the California Board of Education.
“The statement should provide a clear sense of purpose and exemplify district support for the entire planning process.”
Zimmer said established safety guidelines are critical to not only the wellbeing of the faculty, staff members and students at a school, but also to its academic atmosphere.
“Having a school policy is a very, very effective way of providing safety and security to a vast and diverse school district as is LAUSD,” the board member said.
The National Rifle Association has advocated placing armed guards in all of the nearly 98,000 public schools in the nation, a suggestion rejected by Zimmer and Lieu.
“Armed teachers are not the answer,” said the senator, who is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “Fewer guns in schools and better-prepared schools as outlined in Senate Bill 49 would go a long way to better protect our children. SB 49 is this year’s version of a bill I previously introduced in response to poorly prepared Los Angeles schools during a report of an armed gunman.”
Lieu said this was a precaution to hopefully avoid a massacre along the lines of Newtown or the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 other students.
“Nobody wants a tragic situation to be made worse because preparatory steps that should have been taken were neglected or inadequate,” said the senator, who has two sons of elementary school age. “Given the recent massacre in Connecticut, and the lockdown of three schools in Palos Verdes Peninsula last week, the time is now to do what we can to protect our children.”
A 2011 version of AB 49 died in the legislative fiscal committee.