School safety study reveals challenges

Unauthorized people had little difficulty entering Idaho school buildings, according to a new and intensive study of school safety.

Burley Drill
Law enforcement officials participate in a school safety exercise at Burley High School in August 2013.

The State Department of Education’s Safe and Secure Schools Task Force performed safety and security assessments in 74 random schools – representing about 10 percent of the state’s 730 schools.

During the task force’s study, which ran from June to December, unauthorized people were able to enter 71 of the 74 schools studied through points other than a designated main entrance. In 71 schools, kitchen doors were not secured. Gymnasium doors were propped open in 29 secondary schools.

Upon gaining unauthorized access, task force study team members were not approached or contacted by school representatives for an average of nine minutes and 43 seconds. In 19 schools, visitors were never questioned by a staff member — and they eventually reported to the office.

“Ownership and responsibility for school safety and security at the state and local district level has been nebulous and not well defined,” states the task force’s school safety and security report to the Legislature.

Other findings about the 74 schools sampled:

  • Sixty have policies in place to lock school doors at the end of the day.
  • Sixty-eight have published or promoted anti-bullying, anti-harassment or anti-violence policies.
  • Sixty-eight have alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, to allow students to continue to engage in their education.
  • Forty-two schools use internal security camera systems, while buses in 50 schools utilize surveillance systems.
  • In 56 schools, officials have designated hall-monitoring duties to staff members.
  • In 65 schools, administrators developed a means to communicate safety instructions to staff members in a “rapid and clear fashion.” Seventy schools have developed methods for communicating emergency instructions to parents and community members.

Moving forward, the task force recommends school officials continue to refine their threat assessment tools and pursue training for school employees and law enforcement officials.

“While this report identifies several challenges in the area of school safety, it also recognizes many successes in Idaho’s schools that we can build upon going forward,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said in a news release. “Based on this assessment, we now have baseline information that we as a state will use to support schools as they improve safety and security for every child. This is essential because we know no child will be free to learn until they are truly free from intimidation and fear.”

For the 2014-15 budget, Luna has requested $2.2 million in school safety funding for school districts and another $500,000 to be used at the state level.

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