R.I. legislators propose update to school safety plan

The state aims to revamp school safety policy as a response to last year’s Sandy Hook shooting

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2013
This article is part of the series Gun Violence

Two months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., legislators, teachers and administrators have rekindled a debate on improving the safety of Rhode Island’s public schools.

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and members of the Rhode Island Senate Committee on Education are working on creating a school safety plan that could be enacted statewide. The model would allow individual school districts to “go over their plans and make sure they have all the required elements,” said Elliot Krieger, communications assistant to the commissioner. He added that the state’s plan would be composed of “the best elements” from existing school safety plans.

Safety plans cover a wide range of topics, ranging from teacher protocol during drills to recovery after an incident. Krieger said that instead of making the schools’ administrators read through the actual law, a model safety plan would ensure maximum efficiency and efficacy in each school’s planning process by providing only the necessary information.

The presence of armed guards at some urban schools while other schools — primarily in suburban and rural communities — are not guarded has created controversy due to its perceived neglect of certain communities. Krieger said not all schools employ armed guards, and the state legislature defers to police discretion on which schools require heightened security measures.

“Rhode Island schools are safe, but that doesn’t mean that a tragedy can’t happen anywhere,” Krieger said.

School safety plans have to be extremely detailed, with planned responses to a number of different scenarios, he said, adding that they are reviewing “what laws (they) need to strengthen, and how (they) can improve current practices.”

In a school safety hearing Jan. 22, Gist said public schools are “safe and healthy places for teaching and learning,” but added that violence and hazards can occur anywhere, so it is best to be prepared.

The state is also looking to implement a master price agreement with a security company, Krieger said, ensuring low prices for door security systems if a school chooses to upgrade.

Rhode Island has one of the strictest school safety plans in the nation, Krieger said. Every year, schools are supposed to conduct 15 emergency response drills with their students. The commissioner is planning to issue a suggestion that at least one of these drills happen early in the year to ensure immediate readiness, Krieger said.