Safety Plans Need Improvement to Keep Students and Staff Safe During Emergencies, Including Active Shooter Incidents
Schools use safety plans when planning for and responding to emergencies. Although DHS and other state and federal agencies recommend having procedures for responding to active shooter incidents, state law does not require that California schools include these procedures in their safety plans. Consequently, our analysis found that many districts and county offices do not require their schools to include these procedures in their safety plans. Schools without such procedures may be unprepared to respond adequately in the event of an active shooting. In addition, our review of safety plans from three districts and three county offices found that some safety plans were missing required procedures for responding to other emergencies, such as earthquakes, and lacked policies intended to foster a safe learning environment.
State Law Should Require Additional Measures to Better Protect Students and Staff During Violent Incidents
Fourteen percent of the statewide survey respondents indicated that they do not require their schools' safety plans to include procedures to specifically address the threat of active shooter incidents, in part because state law does not require school sites to include active shooter response elements, such as lockdowns and evacuations, in their safety plans. In addition, even though all the districts and county offices we reviewed reported participating in or providing elements of school safety training, each lacked a policy mandating that all schools conduct active shooter training or drills periodically. For example, the San Bernardino City Unified superintendent noted that lockdown, lockout, and active shooter drills were important, but that the district had not mandated them because there was no statutory requirement to do so.
Districts and county offices with schools that have experienced violent incidents reported that having appropriate response procedures in place was instrumental in the protection of students and staff. For example, Taft and San Bernardino City Unified have each experienced a violent incident within the past five years. In 2013 a Taft High School student entered a classroom and opened fire with a shotgun, wounding one student before law enforcement took him into custody. In April 2017, the husband of a North Park Elementary school teacher at San Bernardino City Unified shot and killed the teacher and one student and injured another student before fatally shooting himself. During these two incidents, both schools implemented lockdown procedures. A lockdown procedure generally requires students and staff to proceed inside the nearest building or classroom and lock interior doors. Further, students and staff must remain silent and stay out of sight. Finally, staff are not to open doors until given an all-clear signal by law enforcement.
Taft's current assistant principal, who was at the school at the time of the 2013 active shooter incident, stated that the lockdown procedure saved lives. San Bernardino City Unified also indicated that North Park Elementary implemented a lockdown during its active shooter incident, which the superintendent of San Bernardino City Unified noted was integral to containing the incident. San Bernardino City Unified does not require all of its schools to include lockdown procedures in their safety plans, but many of the schools we reviewed elected to do so. According to the superintendent, the district is planning to require all of its schools to include lockdown and lockout procedures in their 2018 safety plans.
Our statewide survey results also found that most districts and county offices are beginning to acknowledge the importance of requiring that their schools' safety plans address active shooter threats or incidents. Specifically, 86 percent of districts and county offices, or 298 out of 348 survey respondents, indicated that they require that safety plans specifically address active shooter threats or incidents. Furthermore, safety plans we reviewed from schools at Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, as well as San Bernardino City Unified, Rocklin, and Taft, included some level of planning for active shooter or violent incident response, as shown in Table 3. Although the trends indicate that districts and county offices are taking steps to include active shooter response procedures independent of a statutory requirement, a requirement in state law would help ensure that all schools are prepared to respond to violence in and around school sites. Moreover, if state law required such planning, districts and county offices that are already providing drills and trainings designed to support school sites during violent events would likely do so more consistently.
|OPTIONAL SAFETY PLAN ELEMENTS
RELATING TO SCHOOL VIOLENCE
|KERN||PLACER||SAN BERNARDINO||SAN BERNARDINO CITY UNIFIED||ROCKLIN||TAFT*|
|2 PLANS EXAMINED||2 PLANS EXAMINED||2 PLANS EXAMINED||10 PUBLIC SCHOOLS||1 CHARTER SCHOOL||10 PUBLIC SCHOOLS||1 CHARTER SCHOOL||DISTRICT SAFETY PLAN*|
|Lockdown procedures||1 of 2||2 of 2||1 of 2||9 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
(securing all school entry points)
|0 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||4 of 10||No||0 of 10||No||Yes|
|Other active shooter procedures||1 of 2||2 of 2||0 of 2||4 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|Procedures in the event of other violent incidents, such as a bomb threat or sniper||1 of 2||2 of 2||2 of 2||8 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|Evacuation procedures||2 of 2||2 of 2||2 of 2||10 of 10||Yes||0 of 10||No||Yes|
Sources: California State Auditor's analysis of safety plans from schools at the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices and the San Bernardino City Unified, Rocklin, and Taft districts.= Doing well = Could improve = Poor
* Taft is a certified small school district with fewer than 2,501 students and is only required to have one safety plan for all schools in the district.
Federal, State, and Local Agencies Advocate Various Procedures for Responding to Active Shooter Incidents
- Students and staff proceed inside the nearest building or classroom and lock interior doors.
- Turn out the lights, stay out of sight, and maintain silence.
- Remain in place until given an all-clear signal by identifiable law enforcement officers.
- Students and staff return to the inside of the school building and lock perimeter gates and doors.
- Staff can continue instruction but should maintain increased situational awareness to determine if additional steps are needed.
- School leaders facilitate evacuation to a predetermined location.
- School leaders take roll and report any missing, injured, or extra students or persons.
RUN, HIDE, FIGHT PROCEDURES:
- If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate.
- Have an escape route and plan in mind.
- Take others with you, but do not stay behind because they refuse to leave.
- If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.
- Take steps to prevent the active shooter from entering your hiding place: Lock and blockade doors.
- Your hiding place should not trap you or restrict your options for movement.
- This should be done as a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger.
- Acting as aggressively as possible, attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter.
- Throw items and improvise weapons.
Source: California State Auditor's analysis of best practices advocated by DHS, U.S. Department of Education, CDE, San Bernardino City Unified, and Placer county offices.
Our statewide survey also shows that some districts and county offices are not providing any training or drills to students and staff for responding to active shooters. The FBI recommends providing students with training so that they will know how to react during potentially dangerous or threatening situations. Additionally, it recommends providing initial and ongoing training to staff. Further, a guide for developing school emergency plans prepared by various federal agencies states that schools should conduct drills and exercises to provide opportunities to practice with first responders and identify weaknesses in the procedure. Although 88 percent of districts (282 of 319) and 69 percent of county offices (20 of 29) that responded to our survey reported that they provide training on active shooter situations, some schools across the State do not receive training and may be unprepared to respond to a violent incident.
In addition to making active shooter response procedures a mandatory part of the safety plans, districts and county offices should consider best practices that further improve entities' abilities to respond to active shooter incidents and include them in their safety plans. Federal agencies recommend that schools and organizations implement specific procedures for responding to active shooter incidents, such as lockdowns and evacuations. For example, the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Sandy Hook Advisory Commission advocate that safety plans include lockdown procedures. As described in the text box, procedures for responding to active shooter incidents consist of a variety of elements, including hiding in a place that does not restrict movement and seeking to escape as an initial response. Additionally, San Bernardino City Unified also advocates for a procedure known as a lockout, which consists of locking all perimeter doors, windows, and gates in a facility to prevent access by a potential assailant.
Many School Safety Plans Were Missing Required Procedures Meant to Protect Students and Staff
Although state law does not require that schools include an active shooter response procedure in their safety plans, it does require K–12 schools that are supervised by districts and county offices to have individual safety plans that include other specific elements. As shown in Table 4, we reviewed 20 required key safety plan elements, which we sorted into three categories: requirements related to developing and submitting the safety plan, policies for assessing school climate and maintaining a safe learning environment, and procedures for responding to disasters and emergencies. Our review of 27 safety plans at three districts and three county offices found that many were missing required processes and procedures intended to keep students and staff safe while at school. We did not include charter schools in our count of plans that did not meet state law requirements because charter schools are not required to develop safety plans unless mandated by their charter petitions. As we detail later in this report, deficiencies in the safety plans we tested were the result of lax oversight by the districts and county offices we reviewed, as well as inadequate statewide guidance and oversight.
Safety plans at four of the six entities we reviewed—the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and San Bernardino City Unified—failed to include several of the elements related to developing and submitting safety plans (elements 1 through 5 in Table 4). For example, nine of the 16 safety plans we reviewed were not evaluated or amended as needed at least once each year as state law requires. In one instance, a Kern county office school had not updated multiple elements of its safety plan since 2011, including emergency response procedures. In another example, Placer county office also had not updated or approved safety plans for any site since their creation by a contractor in 2014. According to the CDE and California Department of Justice (DOJ), schools derive major benefits from the mandated yearly evaluation of safety plans. Failure to conduct yearly updates may result in plans retaining insufficient policies and procedures for multiple years.
|WE TESTED 20 KEY COMPREHENSIVE
SAFETY PLAN ELEMENTS
REQUIRED BY STATE LAW
|KERN||PLACER||SAN BERNARDINO||SAN BERNARDINO CITY UNIFIED||ROCKLIN||TAFT|
|2 PLANS EXAMINED||2 PLANS EXAMINED||2 PLANS EXAMINED||10 PUBLIC SCHOOLS||1 CHARTER SCHOOL*||10 PUBLIC SCHOOLS||1 CHARTER SCHOOL*||DISTRICT SAFETY PLAN†|
|Development & Submission|
|1||Comprehensive safety plan is written and developed by a council or committee||0 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|2||Council or committee consulted with a representative from a law enforcement agency in the writing and development of the safety plan||2 of 2||2 of 2||1 of 2||0 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|3||School submitted the safety plan to the district or county office for approval||1 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||10 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|4||Council or committee communicated the safety plan to the public at a public meeting at the school site||0 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|5||School evaluated and amended the plan as needed and at least once each year||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||6 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|School Climate & Environment|
|6||Assessment of crime at the school and at school‑related functions||1 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|7||Child abuse reporting procedures||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||0 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|8||Suspension/expulsion policies and procedures||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||2 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|9||Procedures for notifying teachers of dangerous pupils||1 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|10||Discrimination and harassment policy||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||1 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|11||Procedures for safe ingress and egress of pupils, parents, and employees||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||2 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|12||A safe and orderly environment conducive to learning||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||2 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|13||Rules and procedures on school discipline||1 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||1 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|Disaster & Emergencies|
|14||Routine and emergency disaster response procedures||1 of 2||2 of 2||1 of 2||10 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|15||Adaptations of routine and emergency disaster response procedures for pupils with disabilities||0 of 2||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 10||No||0 of 10||No||Yes|
|16||Earthquake drop procedure (students and staff take cover)||1 of 2||2 of 2||2 of 2||10 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|17||Frequency of drop procedure drills: at least once per quarter in elementary, once per semester in secondary||0 of 2||2 of 2||0 of 2||4 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|18||Protective measures to be taken before, during, and after an earthquake||2 of 2||2 of 2||2 of 2||10 of 10||Yes||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|19||Program to ensure that pupils and certificated and classified staff are aware of and are trained in the earthquake procedures||0 of 2||2 of 2||1 of 2||7 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||Yes|
|20||Procedures to allow a public agency, including the American Red Cross, to use school buildings, grounds, and equipment for mass care and welfare shelters during an emergency||0 of 2||0 of 2||1 of 2||0 of 10||No||10 of 10||Yes||No|
Sources: California State Auditor's analysis of safety plans from schools at the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and the San Bernardino City Unified, Rocklin, and Taft districts.= Doing well = Could improve = Poor
* Under state law, charter schools are exempt from the requirements related to developing and updating safety plans.
† Taft is a certified small school district with fewer than 2,501 students and is required to have only one safety plan for all schools in the district.
In addition, none of the 16 schools whose safety plans we reviewed from these four entities communicated their safety plan during a public meeting at the school site. Each of the schools failed to comply with requirements that their safety plans be updated by individual councils or committees made up of certain community members. According to CDE and DOJ, community collaboration is necessary to achieve the desired results of a comprehensive and effective safety plan. Further, one plan from the San Bernardino county office and all of the safety plans we reviewed for San Bernardino City Unified did not provide evidence that the schools met the requirement that they consult with a law enforcement representative when developing their safety plan. According to CDE and DOJ, partnerships between schools and law enforcement can be invaluable in meeting the needs of students at risk of committing violent acts. Law enforcement partnerships can also help schools set up referral systems so that these students receive comprehensive behavioral support from a variety of community agencies. When schools do not engage with law enforcement or the public before updating their safety plans, they miss an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and perspective of these stakeholders.
Safety plans from schools at four of the six districts and county offices we reviewed—the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and San Bernardino City Unified—were also missing important elements needed to assess school climate and create a safe learning environment (elements 6 through 13 in Table 4). Fourteen of the 16 safety plans were missing element 9—procedures for notifying teachers when dangerous pupils are enrolled in their classes. Further, 12 of the plans from these entities were missing element 11—procedures for the safe ingress and egress of pupils, parents, and employees. In fact, 12 of the 16 safety plans from these four entities were missing all eight of the elements related to assessing school climate and creating a safe learning environment. Although three of the four entities had some of these policies available online, the safety plan contained no reference to their location and thus the policies were not easily accessible by students and staff. Procedures such as these are important for maintaining the safety of students and staff.
Safety plans for schools at Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and San Bernardino City Unified also lacked two or more of the emergency procedures intended to safeguard students during disasters and emergencies (elements 14 through 20 in Table 4). State law requires districts and county offices to include routine and emergency disaster procedures in their safety plans to ensure that students and staff have procedures for responding to disasters such as earthquakes. However, 15 of the 16 plans were missing element 15—adaptations to procedures to accommodate pupils with disabilities—and six of the plans lacked element 19—a program to ensure that students and staff are aware of and trained in earthquake emergency procedures. Moreover, nearly every safety plan in the districts and county offices we reviewed, except Taft, lacked procedures to accommodate pupils with disabilities. Safety plans play a key role in keeping students and staff safe during an emergency, but when required elements are missing from the plans, students and staff may not be prepared.
The four entities whose schools' safety plans were missing multiple key procedures gave a number of reasons for the problems we found. The safety and emergency manager (safety manager) at San Bernardino City Unified stated that the district had previously focused on areas of school safety rather than safety plans. He also indicated that before academic year 2016–17, San Bernardino City Unified had not evaluated its schools' safety plans using the CDE checklist that summarizes safety plan components, discussed later in this report. However, he stated that San Bernardino City Unified would begin using a safety plan template and document-tracking system for all of its schools in academic year 2017–18.
The three county offices offered other explanations for why their schools' safety plans were missing elements. For example, the Kern and San Bernardino county offices did not know that county offices were required to comply with state laws regarding safety plans in the same manner as districts. According to the Placer County chief operations officer, the county office contracted with an independent contractor to develop its safety plan template and will update its safety plans for the upcoming school cycle, which will address the missing documentation. Also, as we discuss in the next section, all three county offices lack a sufficient process to monitor whether schools are submitting safety plans and whether those safety plans include all of the policies and procedures state law requires. Until all schools' safety plans include these elements, students and teachers may not know how to respond during an emergency.
Districts and County Offices Have Failed to Ensure That Schools Are Complying With Safety Plan Requirements
Districts and county offices have provided their schools with inadequate oversight, resulting in the schools' potential reliance on insufficient or nonexistent safety plans and creating an environment ripe for inadequate emergency responses. All county office schools and schools in districts with 2,501 or more students must submit an individualized safety plan for review by March 1 each year.4 Districts and county offices are responsible for the overall development, review, and approval of these safety plans for the schools they oversee and must submit an advisory notification to CDE of any noncompliant schools. However, four of the six districts and county offices we reviewed failed to ensure that all of their school sites had safety plans in place or that existing plans met state requirements. In contrast, as we discuss later, the remaining two districts we reviewed—Taft and Rocklin—had strong oversight systems in place to ensure that safety plans generally met state requirements.
Despite an event that highlighted the necessity of having comprehensive, up-to-date safety plans, San Bernardino City Unified has not ensured that its schools have safety plans or that their plans meet the requirements of state law. In 2015 a mass shooting occurred in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center for the Disabled (regional center) that resulted in the deaths of 14 people. However, even though several of its schools were in close proximity to the regional center, in the years following the incident, San Bernardino City Unified has not implemented a process to ensure that its schools submit annual safety plans. The need for greater oversight of these plans by the district was highlighted in an after-action report for the 2015 incident, in which 54 percent of the district's school and department sites reported the need for a clear lockdown protocol, as well as practices and drills.
As a result of this lax oversight of safety plans, some schools have failed to create or update them annually. For example, San Bernardino City Unified could not provide 2017 safety plans for 15 of its 73 school sites that are required to submit them. When we discussed the missing plans with the district's safety manager, he stated that he did not believe that the 15 schools had safety plans in place. When we questioned the superintendent on the schools' missing safety plans, he pointed to the high rate of staff turnover at various school sites as an explanation for why schools may not have submitted them. Moreover, before academic year 2016–17, San Bernardino City Unified failed to track whether schools were submitting safety plans annually. Thus, for many years, some schools in this district may have had no safety plan to consult before or during an emergency.
In addition, schools may have maintained unapproved safety plans that were missing vital procedures. Specifically, San Bernardino City Unified has failed to review and approve the safety plans that its schools do submit. Our review of safety plans over a five‑year period, from academic years 2012–13 through 2016–17, found that San Bernardino City Unified was unable to provide evidence that a single plan had been approved during that period. The superintendent noted that the district has focused on other aspects of school safety because of the challenges associated with the crime rate in San Bernardino. For example, the district held numerous trainings and conducted 10 site-specific drills related to lockdowns in 2016. According to the San Bernardino City Unified superintendent, the district is taking steps to institute a formal document-tracking and approval process for academic year 2017–18, which he believes will allow for a more formalized approval process and verification that all 73 required school sites submit safety plans that comply with state law. Further, the district is in the process of creating a template for use by all school sites. However, until San Bernardino City Unified implements actions to increase oversight, students and staff may lack access to plans and procedures that are meant to keep them safe.
The Kern and San Bernardino county offices also lacked robust policies and procedures necessary to ensure that their schools' safety plans met the requirements of state law. County offices can operate a variety of schools that provide a wide range of services, such as special and vocational education, programs for youth at risk of failure, and instruction in juvenile detention facilities. Like districts, county offices are responsible for ensuring that safety plans adopted by these schools have the necessary procedures and policies to respond to an emergency and to foster a safe school environment, and for ensuring that their schools develop and submit safety plans in accordance with state law. A key requirement is that schools must have a site-specific safety plan that is relevant to its needs and resources. However, San Bernardino county office schools and Kern county office community schools relied on one central safety plan for all their schools, instead of having each school create its own safety plan.
Moreover, to be eligible for state disaster assistance programs, which refund emergency response-related personnel costs, each school district and its accompanying school sites must comply with state and federal laws that require that an incident command structure for each school-site-specific safety plan be in place for emergencies. Because the Kern and San Bernardino county offices rely on generic safety plans, rather than safety plans that are specific to each site, they have no assurance that individual sites have in place individualized emergency procedures, such as up-to-date evacuation routes or emergency command structures. The Kern director of alternative education and the San Bernardino county assistant superintendent both indicated that they had not included some required safety plan elements because they were not aware of them. However, without these school-site-specific procedures, staff and students at these educational facilities may not have the processes in place to respond safely to some emergencies.
The Placer county office also lacked sufficient review and approval procedures to ensure that its sites annually submitted safety plans that contained the required elements. Further, the Placer county office lacked safety plans for two of the sites that report to it. When we questioned the chief operations officer about these two sites, he told us that the Placer county office believed it was not required to conduct safe school planning for one of them—a juvenile hall—and that he had been under the impression that the other school site fell under the planning responsibility of a school district. However, he informed us that he would address these issues in the upcoming academic year 2017–18.
The Rocklin and Taft districts have implemented strong processes to ensure the sufficiency of their schools' safety plans and their compliance with state law. For example, Rocklin uses two processes, which we discuss later in this report, to ensure that all of its 16 public school sites that require plans submitted them and complied with state law. Taft, a small district of two schools, created a districtwide plan that addresses each school site. The superintendent noted that following its 2013 active shooter incident, Taft revised its safety plan and its designated committee now meets multiple times per year to discuss safety protocols and update the district's plan. Rocklin and Taft's strong protocols for safety plan creation, submission, and approval have led to plans that help ensure the safety of the school sites they oversee.
Statewide Guidance and Oversight Are Inadequate to Ensure the Safety and Security of Students and Staff
Although CDE has provided guidance to districts and county offices regarding school safety plans, given the number of errors we described earlier and responses we received to our interview and survey questions, its guidance appears to be insufficient. State law requires CDE to provide counsel to educational entities. For example, CDE must provide information related to gun violence, best practices to combat crime and violence in public schools, and educational materials on disaster preparedness. CDE has supplied guidance through a combination of memos sent to districts and county offices, participation in annual educational conferences, convening a superintendent's advisory committee, and information posted to its website. Additionally, CDE's guidance includes an optional compliance checklist for schools to use during safety plan creation. Such checklists can be beneficial for schools in understanding the volume of requirements related to safety plans. However, the current version of CDE's safety plan checklist contains several errors, such as incorrect statutory references and an optional provision that is identified as required.
Moreover, some districts and county offices we reviewed stated that they had not received guidance from CDE or that they wanted CDE to provide additional direction and training. For example, the Kern county office and San Bernardino City Unified explained that they were unaware of CDE's guidance, either because that guidance had not been directed to the correct employee or because CDE sends numerous letters throughout the year. Thus, these letters may have been overlooked. Further, the Kern and San Bernardino county offices noted that their safety plans' noncompliance stems from a lack of understanding of state law. In addition, our statewide survey results indicate that a broader problem exists, as shown in the text box. Specifically, nearly 80 percent of county offices indicated that they were not responsible for reviewing and approving school safety plans, even though state law requires every county office that maintains a school to review and approve their schools' safety plans. Moreover, respondents indicated that more training and guidance on the part of CDE would be beneficial. Thus, even though CDE has made attempts to provide guidance to school districts and county offices about comprehensive safety plan requirements, these efforts have failed to yield sufficient compliance with state law.
Districts' and County Offices' Responses to Our Statewide Survey Indicate That There is a Widespread Lack of Understanding Related to Safety Plan Responsibilities and That More Guidance is Necessary
If your district / county is responsible for approving comprehensive school safety plans, have all schools submitted their plans for approval during academic years 2014–15 through 2016–17?
- The guidance needs to start with [state law] changes and increased CDE staffing and/or activity to address school safety, bullying prevention, and how to prepare active shooter response plans and drills with law enforcement. School safety across all California schools could be improved if there was additional funding focused on safety and enhanced CDE leadership on safe schools planning to address bullying, cyber-bullying, and active shooter situations.
- Direct guidance [from CDE] on the [county offices'] responsibility on the school safety act.
Source: A survey by the California State Auditor sent to 983 districts and county offices conducted from March to April 2017 with 348 entities responding.
CDE and DOJ also allowed the activities of the partnership to lapse several years ago, which further decreased the amount of guidance and oversight districts and county offices receive from the State related to safety plans. The Legislature created the partnership as a joint collaboration between CDE and DOJ in 1985. State law requires the partnership to fulfill several broad duties related to safety plans, including developing policies necessary for safety plan implementation, providing all related training, and administering safe schools programs. More specifically, the partnership must sponsor two regional conferences related to school safety, establish a statewide safety cadre for the purpose of facilitating interagency coordination between law enforcement and educational entities, and conduct annual assessments of items such as the effectiveness of training on safe schools and crisis response.5 Because neither entity actively participates in the partnership, none of these important activities have taken place in recent years.
CDE and DOJ both explained that the partnership activities lapsed due to budget cuts. Specifically, when we asked DOJ's director of operations for her perspective on why the partnership ceased, she noted that DOJ ended its half of the partnership activities in approximately 2008, when the Legislature eliminated funding for the Crime and Violence Prevention Center. Similarly, CDE's administrator of coordinated school health and safety (safety administrator) stated that CDE continued its partnership duties until the Legislature reallocated school funding into the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. The partnership received a total appropriation of $14.6 million in fiscal year 2003–04 included in CDE's budget to perform its duties—the last year the Legislature provided separate funding for the partnership. However, regardless of whether the Legislature provides funding for those specific purposes, state law continues to require CDE and DOJ to perform most of the partnership's activities. In fact, only contracting with professional trainers to coordinate statewide workshops for districts and county offices and the provision of training on bullying prevention are contingent on appropriations.
Relevant and up-to-date guidance from the partnership may have helped schools create more robust and informed safety plans. For example, state law contains a statement of legislative intent that schools are to use a handbook developed by the partnership in conjunction with developing their school safety plans. However, the partnership last updated the handbook, Safe Schools: A Planning Guide for Action, in 2002, which includes guidance related to lockdown procedures that conflicts with more current procedures developed in consultation with law enforcement. For example, the partnership's handbook recommends that staff allow a late student to enter a classroom during a lockdown only if he or she is enrolled in that class. However, lockdown procedures at one district and one county office developed 12 years later, in 2014, require any student who is outside to proceed to the nearest building or classroom during a lockdown in order to ensure those students' safety while on campus. In addition, state law requires that every safety plan include a school building disaster plan, but the handbook offers no guidance on how schools should create such plans. In fact, no state entity we spoke with could provide any guidance on what a building disaster plan is or what it should include. Consequently, we could not identify the necessary criteria for evaluating this element of the safety plans, but we did note that many safety plans contained no reference to a building disaster plan. CDE's and DOJ's cessation of activities related to the partnership, which was designed to provide guidance and support to districts and county offices concerning their safety plans, has weakened the schools' ability to protect students.
Furthermore, CDE has not exercised the oversight necessary to ensure that districts and county offices are reviewing and approving safety plans. Districts and county offices are required to provide annual notifications to CDE of schools that have failed to comply with safety plan requirements. Although CDE's safety administrator stated that CDE has never received a notification of noncompliance since the inception of the requirement in 1997, CDE has not conducted an audit or review to confirm that all of California's 9,300 public schools are submitting safety plans and that all districts and county offices are approving them. If CDE had conducted such a review, it would have found numerous instances—as we did—in which districts and county offices failed to report schools that did not submit plans. In their responses to our statewide survey, 19 of the 319 districts indicated that some of the schools they oversee had not reviewed or updated their safety plans by March 1, 2017, and an additional 13 did not know whether all of their schools had reviewed or updated their safety plans as state law requires.
In addition, 19 of the 29 responding county offices noted that they did not track whether all their schools had even submitted a safety plan, which calls into question how those county offices would know when to submit a notice of noncompliance to CDE. Moreover, as we noted previously, we identified numerous instances of noncompliance at the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and San Bernardino City Unified. The CDE audit and investigation director stated that CDE has conducted reviews of child care centers and assisted with fiscal portions of federal monitoring that could include work at a limited number of districts, but that it does not have the resources or funding to conduct audits of safety plan compliance at the district or county office level. Additionally, she noted that having CDE conduct safety plan audits of districts and county offices would not be an effective approach for a number of reasons. For example, she stated that having CDE conduct separate audits of districts and county offices would not be effective in achieving timely compliance, due to the size of the CDE audit and investigation unit compared to the number of districts and county offices in the State.
We believe the State could use a separate oversight process, such as the audit process guided by the Education Audit Appeals Panel (EAAP), to ensure that districts and county offices review and approve safety plans annually. For example, state law requires the State Controller's Office (SCO), in consultation with the Department of Finance, CDE, and other representatives from specified organizations, to propose the contents of a guide for the required annual financial and compliance audit of the State's educational entities each year. State law requires districts, county offices, and other local educational entities to use the audit guide to review compliance with a variety of important state requirements, including attendance records and instructional time. The SCO then submits the proposed audit guide to the EAAP, which formally adopts it. According to the EAAP's executive officer, each district and county office in the State then contracts with an outside audit firm to conduct the required audit procedures. The executive officer went on to state that after the outside audit firm completes the audit, the district, county office, or charter school forwards the results to the SCO for review and CDE or county offices then follow up on any findings, depending on the nature of the finding. If the audit guide included a requirement to review whether districts and county offices were appropriately approving safety plans, it would encourage all districts and county offices to increase their oversight of their schools' safety plans and better ensure that those plans comply with state law.
Finally, the State could do more to ensure that safety plans contain all of the procedures needed to keep students and staff safe in constantly evolving school environments. Currently, no entity is systematically reviewing safety plan requirements to ensure that they respond to changes in the school setting and that they incorporate best practices from federal and state authorities. For example, current events have shown that bullying and cyber‑bullying increase the potential for students to act out violently or take other negative actions. However, state law does not currently require safety plans to contain policies to reduce instances of bullying in or out of school. Periodic evaluation and monitoring by entities, such as the partnership, that are knowledgeable about school safety issues could assist schools throughout the State by providing updates regarding policies or procedures that could improve school safety.
Rocklin and the Placer County Office Have Implemented Best Practices to Help Ensure That Safety Plans Are Approved Annually
We identified three best practices at two of the entities we reviewed that could help other districts and county offices ensure that their schools have submitted safety plans and that those safety plans have all of the procedures needed to comply with state law. We observed the following best practices at Rocklin and the Placer county office:
- Rocklin distributes a safety plan template to its school sites that the schools then modify to include site-specific procedures.
- Rocklin uses a document-tracking system to ensure that its schools submit safety plans in a timely manner so that the district can review and approve them before the March 1 deadline each year.
- The Placer county office requires districts in its jurisdiction to certify that they have reviewed and approved all of their schools' safety plans each year.
To ensure that the safety plans submitted by its schools contain the procedures state law requires, Rocklin distributes templates to all its schools. Schools then modify the templates with site-specific information, such as lists of personnel responsible for emergency activities. According to Rocklin's coordinator of state and federal programs, the district worked with law enforcement in 2014 to revise existing plans and bring them in line with the processes local law enforcement uses. Rocklin helped to ensure the overall sufficiency of its template by working with law enforcement during its creation, and each site complied with the state requirement to create its plan in consultation with law enforcement. In contrast, districts and county offices that lack templates, such as San Bernardino City Unified, were missing a number of elements necessary for preparing for and responding to emergencies or fostering safe learning environments. Districts and county offices that distribute generic safety plan templates to school sites for them to modify may allow schools to more easily determine what procedures are required to increase school safety while at the same time complying with state law.
Rocklin also verified that school sites updated their plans and submitted them for approval in a timely fashion by using a document-tracking system, which included all public schools in the district. State law requires districts, including Rocklin, and county offices throughout the State to review and approve safety plans submitted by school sites by March 1 each year. Although four of the six entities we reviewed did not have adequate processes to review and approve safety plans, Rocklin had approved the 2017 safety plans submitted by every public school in the district by that date. Further, the district was able to provide approved historical plans for a selection of district schools over a five-year period. In contrast, San Bernardino City Unified did not have a document‑tracking system in place, and our review found that 15 of its 73 school sites that are required to submit safety plans failed to do so in 2017.
Finally, we found a best practice implemented at the Placer county office that increased its districts' oversight of their schools' safety plans. While we found issues with how Placer monitored its educational facilities, it had a process in place to ensure that its districts were approving safety plans for all of their schools annually. Although not required by state law, the Placer county office instituted a program for districts within its jurisdiction mandating that they self-certify their compliance with safety plan approval requirements. The process increases the Placer county office's oversight of districts by requiring district superintendents or their designees to certify that they have reviewed and approved all of their schools' safety plans. The superintendent of the Placer county office noted that the county office began this program so that it could report any noncompliant districts to CDE. The Placer county office did not extend this oversight to any formal review, approval, or auditing of district plans, but it did achieve a significant number of responses from its districts. This process may have contributed to the fact that one of the districts we reviewed—Rocklin, within Placer County—received and approved safety plans from all its schools in 2017. This practice demonstrates that requiring subordinate agencies to send in certification notices that their schools have submitted safety plans may increase compliance rates.
To ensure that students and staff are prepared to respond to violent incidents on or near school sites, the Legislature should require that safety plans include procedures, such as lockdowns, recommended by federal and state agencies. The Legislature should also require schools to hold periodic training and drills on these procedures.
To ensure that districts and county offices are complying with state law each year, the Legislature should require CDE to conduct an annual statewide survey to determine whether schools have submitted plans and whether those plans have been reviewed and approved by their respective district or county office. The Legislature should also require CDE to issue an annual report detailing the survey's results.
To ensure that districts and county offices are complying with state laws related to safety plans, the Legislature should add a requirement to the EAAP audit guide for districts and county offices to receive audits of their approval of safety plans.
The Legislature should require that the partnership between CDE and DOJ periodically review safety plan requirements to ensure that the plans keep pace with evolving school environments and updated educational research.
CDE and DOJ
To ensure that districts and county offices properly review and approve safety plans as required, CDE should provide the following additional guidance regarding district and county office responsibilities under state law:
- Update and correct the safety plan compliance checklist and make it available to all districts and county offices.
- Provide general direction to schools on what to include in their building disaster plans.
- Provide information on best practices similar to those we discuss in this report for monitoring and approving safety plans.
To ensure that districts, county offices, and schools receive guidance on a variety of safety issues and to comply with state law, CDE and DOJ should resume their partnership activities, as required by state law. Further, the partnership should update the 2002 handbook, Safe Schools: A Planning Guide for Action, and distribute it to all districts and county offices. If CDE or DOJ determine the need for additional funds to implement the legislative recommendations or to reestablish the partnership's activities, they should request those funds from the Legislature.
Districts and County Offices
To ensure that their schools' safety plans comply with state law and are submitted and approved on or before March 1 each year, the Kern, Placer, and San Bernardino county offices, and San Bernardino City Unified should implement procedures to monitor and approve their schools' safety plans. The procedures should include the use of electronic document-tracking systems and safety plan templates.
We conducted this audit under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Section 8543 et seq. of the California Government Code and according to generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives specified in the Scope and Methodology section of the report. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
August 31, 2017
Kathleen Klein Fullerton, MPA, Audit Principal
Aaron E. Fellner, MPP
David DeNuzzo, MBA
Nick B. Phelps, JD
J. Christopher Dawson, Sr. Staff Counsel
For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact
Margarita Fernández, Chief of Public Affairs, at 916.445.0255.
5 CDE sponsored two regional conferences in 2016 related to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Healthy Students Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools that provided guidance on developing emergency operations plans. Go back to text