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School Safety

The School Safety Audit

What is the School Safety Audit?

The Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8. establishes requirements for school safety audits and defines school safety audit as:

a written assessment of the safety conditions in each public school to (i) identify and, if necessary, develop solutions for physical safety concerns, including building security issues and (ii) identify and evaluate any patterns of student safety concerns occurring on school property or at school-sponsored events. Solutions and responses shall include recommendations for structural adjustments, changes in school safety procedures, and revisions to the school board’s standards for student conduct.”

School boards must mandate that all schools under the board’s supervisory control are to conduct school safety audits annually.

What are the Components of the School Safety Audit?

The Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety (VCSCS) in the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) has been designated to collect, analyze, and disseminate various Virginia school safety data including school safety audit information. The School Safety Audit Program in Virginia includes five components:

  1. Virginia School Safety Survey (administered annually)
    Each year, the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety administers the web-based Virginia School Safety Survey to collect school safety audit information from all public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. Principals are responsible for completing the surveys. The information collected allows VCSCS and state policy makers to describe school safety policies, practices, and conditions in Virginia’s public schools.

  2. The Division Level Survey (administered as needed)
    As needed, the VCSCS administers the web-based Division Level Safety Survey to collect division-wide information from all public school divisions in the Commonwealth. Superintendents are responsible for completing the survey. The information collected allows VCSCS and state policy makers to describe school safety policies, practices, and conditions in Virginia’s public schools.

  3. Virginia School Crisis Management Plan Review and Certification (annually)
    In accordance with Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8, by August 31 of each year the division Superintendent shall certify that all schools in his/her division completed a written school crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plan, referred to as the Crisis Management Plan, and that these plans were approved by the local school board. The school board shall also provide copies of these plans to the local chief law enforcement officer, fire chief, chief emergency medical services official, and an emergency management official. The Crisis Management Plans over events such as

    • natural disasters;
    • loss or disruption of power, water, communications, or shelter;
    • bus or other accidents;
    • medical emergencies, including student or staff deaths;
    • explosions, bomb threats, or gun, knife, or other weapons threats;
    • spills or exposures to hazardous substances;
    • the presence of unauthorized persons or trespassers;
    • the loss, disappearance, or kidnapping of a student, or hostage situations;
    • violence on school property or at school activities;
    • incidents involving acts of terrorism; and
    • other incidents posing a serious threat of harm to students, personnel, or facilities.

  4. Virginia Secondary School Climate Survey (administered in the Spring)
    In accordance with Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8, the VCSCS is required to survey the overall climate and safety conditions of schools in Virginia. In order to achieve this mandate, the Secondary School Climate Survey began in the spring of 2013 by surveying all 7th and 8th grade students and teachers in the Commonwealth. In the spring of 2014, all 9th–12th grade students and teachers were surveyed. This pattern of alternating survey approaches will continue. The anonymous survey provides schools with an insight into student and teacher perceptions of school rules and discipline, teacher-student relationships, student engagement, and other safety and climate issues.

  5. The School Safety Inspection Checklist (due Fall 2017)
    As a result of the 2013 Governor’s School and Campus Safety Task Force, legislative updates were made to Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8. One such update was the required School Safety Inspection Checklist. All public schools in Virginia are required to complete a school building safety inspection using a standardized walk-through checklist. Every three years, the Division Superintendent will collect all checklists from the division and certify their completion to VCSCS by August 31 of that year. The first checklist certification was due to VCSCS in 2014. The completed checklists shall be made available to the chief law enforcement officer of the locality upon request.

Resources

For an overview of the school safety audit program or to view more in-depth details about any component see the School Safety Audit Program section of the DCJS website.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services publishes an annual report with the results from that years’ safety audit. View the 2015 School Safety Audit Survey Results.

The School Crisis, Emergency Management and Medical Response Plan provides schools with important information, guidance, and templates for developing a well-crafted crisis response plan.

The Critical Incident Response for School Faculty and Staff series includes a manual and a video which are designed to assist in the training of school and public safety personnel as they prepare for a crisis incident at schools.

The Bus Driver and Monitor Safety and Security series represents a training resource for school personnel, particularly those working in transportation assignments, for the prevention and proper response regarding crisis situations or criminal activity.

Is the Safety Audit a “Written Assessment”?

Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8 defines the safety audit (to be conducted each year by school principals) as a “written assessment” of safety conditions in every public school.

To meet the requirement for a “written assessment,” each school should

  • conduct a review of all components of the safety audit (safety survey, building inspection checklist, crisis plan, DCV data, and climate survey, where appropriate);
  • identify areas of concern;
  • identify any needed changes;
  • identify safety concerns and solutions
  • complete the template, or a similar document, provided on the audit website; and
  • submit the completed template to the division safety audit committee and/or the Superintendent by December 31 of each year.

What materials can be omitted from an audit report?

Pursuant to Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.2(7), schools may exclude security plans and specific vulnerability assessments from disclosure to the public. This exclusion option is to prevent potentially dangerous information from being available to those who may wish to commit criminal acts. In the Safety Audit Template, and in any audit component, these portions are noted.

Resources

School Safety Audit Template

What is a School Safety Audit Committee?

The Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8specifies that each division superintendent must create a school safety audit committee which will review audits and make recommendations to the superintendent regarding improving school safety. The audit committee reviews the school safety audits from all schools in the division. The safety audit committee should then make recommendations for improving school safety to the Superintendent and/or school board. VCSCS created a templateto assist in this process. Once the superintendent and/or school board has reviewed the recommendations, the Superintendent will certify audit completion to the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety by the end of August each year. This certification will be due in August 31, 2017, and each year thereafter.

Resources

Division level Audit Template

Who Serves on the School Safety Audit Committee?

The committee should include:

  • a parent,
  • a teacher,
  • a local law enforcement representative,
  • an emergency services agency representative,
  • a local community services board representative, and
  • a judicial or public safety representative.

Resources

View a recommended meeting schedule and other guidance.

Are there any other new requirements for school divisions?

Yes, new requirements added to the Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.8 and § 22.1-137.2 include:

  • developing a school safety audit committee,
  • designating an emergency manager, and
  • conducting lock down drills.

What are an emergency manager's responsibilities?

The school division emergency manager plays an important role in both responding to events and preparing for possible crises. The emergency manager should be prepared to serve as liaison between school personnel and first responders, coordinate resources and implement response plans, and distribute information to communicate with parents and community members. Emergency managers can prepare for crises through drills, checklists, audits, planning, and other activities.

The emergency manager is also responsible for reporting emergencies to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services via the following website: www.dcjs.virginia.gov/victims-services/report-campus-local-emergency.

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Resources

For guidance from VCSCS on designating an emergency manager and suggested responsibilities, read the VCSCS Guidance on Emergency Manager Designee document.

What are Lockdown Drills?

All public schools in Virginia are required to conduct lockdown drills each year. A lockdown drill is an exercise to prepare schools for a critical incident, particularly an active shooter within a school. During these exercises, schools lockdown entrances, classrooms, and students. Staff follow a plan of shelter-in-place or evacuation, depending on the circumstances and school policy. Although lockdown drill exercises are required by law, other types of emergency drills, including evacuation and shelter-in-place drills should also be conducted. The purpose of any emergency drill is to prepare students, staff, and first responders to cope with an actual crisis and simultaneously assess and improve existing plans.

A lockdown drill is different than a fire drill. In a lockdown drill, doors are closed and, when appropriate, locked, students are directed out of halls and open areas into closed and supervised areas, and security procedures are enhanced. During a fire drill, all students, staff, and personnel must leave the building in an orderly fashion.

During the 2016 General Assembly session, the Virginia Code was amended to require every public school to hold a lock-down drill at least twice during the first 20 school days of each school session and at least two additional lock-down drills during the remainder of the school session.

However, Section 8VAC20-131-260 of the Board of Education’s Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia (Standards of Accreditation) requires that every public school conduct at least two simulated lock-down drills and crisis emergency evacuation activities each school year, one in September and one in January. Therefore, in order to comply with the Code of Virginia and the Standards of Accreditation, every public school will need to conduct two lock-down drills during the first 20 days of school – one of which must occur in September – and two additional lock-down drills during the remainder of the school year – one of which must occur in January.

The Virginia Code was also amended to require every public school to hold a fire drill at least twice during the first 20 school days of each school session and at least two additional fire drills during the remainder of the school session. The State Fire Marshall, however, advises that the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code has a more stringent requirement of an initial fire drill within the first 10 days of the school session and one fire drill per month.

However, Section 8VAC20-131-260 of the Standards of Accreditation requires that every public school conduct fire drills at least once a week during the first month of school and at least once each month for the remainder of the school year. Therefore, in order to comply with the Standards of Accreditation, every public school will still need to conduct at least one fire drill per week during the first month of school and at least one fire drill each month for the remainder of the school year.

 

Lockdown Drills

Fire Drills

First 20 days of school

At least twice during the first 20 days of school (one must occur in September)

One per week during the first month of school

Remainder of school year

At least two additional lockdown drills (one must occur in January)

Once a month

Resources

Additional guidance on school emergencies can be found in The Virginia Educators Guide for Planning and Conducting School Emergency Drills.

Following an emergency, when and how should schools contact authorities?

During an emergency or crisis, the safety of students and school personnel is paramount. First responders (law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services) should be contacted immediately. Once persons are safe and first responders are notified, schools should contact the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to initiate victim assistance procedures. These resources include: victim advocates, counseling, access to the victims’ compensation fund, and other programs.

Resources

For more information on contacting authorities following an emergency, see the VCSCS document: Guidance for School Systems in the Event that Victims Arise from an Emergency.

Threat Assessment

What is a Threat?

According to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Model Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines:

“A threat is a concerning communication or behavior that suggests a person may intend to harm someone else. The threat may be spoken, written, or gestured and is considered a threat regardless of whether it is observed or communicated directly to the target of the threat or observed by or communicated to a third party and regardless of whether the target of the threat is aware of the threat existing in any fashion, whether orally, visually, in writing, or electronically.”

Are there different levels of threats?

The VCSCS identifies threats as low risk, moderate risk, high risk, and imminent.

  • A low risk threat is one in which the person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence and any underlying issues can be resolved easily.
  • A moderate risk threat is one in which the person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence at this time but exhibits behaviors that indicate a continuing intent to harm and potential for future violence.
  • A high risk threat is one in which the person/situation appears to pose a threat of violence, exhibiting behaviors that indicate both a continuing intent to harm and efforts to acquire the capacity to carry out the plan.
  • An imminent threat exists when the person/situation appears to pose a clear and immediate threat of serious violence toward others that requires containment and action to protect identified target(s).

What is Threat Assessment?

A threat assessment is a fact-based process relying primarily on an appraisal of behaviors to identify potentially dangerous or violent situations and address them. The primary purposes of student threat assessment are to:

  • reduce the risk of violence;
  • ensure a prepared response;
  • reduce liability exposure; and
  • instill public confidence that schools can keep students, staff, and personnel safe.

Threat assessment was originally developed by the U.S. Secret Service after a series of school shootings. In 2004, a joint report of the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education entitled The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States recommended that schools train threat assessment teams in order to respond to student threats of violence.

What must schools do regarding threat assessments?

According to the Code of Virginia § 22.1-79.4 every school board:

  • must have policies in place to conduct threat assessments of persons (students and non-students) who appear dangerous;
  • must have a referral process in those policies;
  • must assemble a threat assessment team;
  • must convey the findings of the threat assessment team to the superintendent; and
  • must report quantitative data on threat assessment proceedings to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Resources

In Fall 2016, DCJS will debut an informational video entitled K12 Threat Assessment in VA: A Prevention Overview for School Staff, Parents, and Community Members. The purpose of the video is to summarize threat assessment Virginia for school staff, parents, students, and community members. Watch the video.

What is a threat assessment team?

The threat assessment team shall

  • provide guidance to students, faculty, and staff regarding recognition of threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a threat to the community,
  • identify members of the school community to whom threatening behavior should be reported, and
  • implement the policies adopted by the school board.

The superintendent of each school division appoints this committee and the team may serve one or more schools. Persons to be included must have expertise in human resources, education, school administration, mental health, and law enforcement.

Resources

VCSCS provides guidance on the formation of threat assessment teams and reporting requirements.

What does a student “threat assessment” involve?

The threat assessment process is designed to identify and assess risks in a deliberate and thorough manner. In determining response strategies to mitigate the risk and to provide assistance, as needed, it is helpful to classify threats by level. Based on the information collected, the threat assessment team may classify threats using the following basic criteria:

Threat Levels

Criteria

Low risk threat

person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence and any underlying issues can be resolved easily.

Moderate risk threat

person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence at this time but exhibits behaviors that indicate a continuing intent to harm and potential for future violence.

High risk threat

person/situation appears to pose a threat of violence, exhibiting behaviors that indicate both a continuing intent to harm and efforts to acquire the capacity to carry out the plan.

Imminent threat

person/situation appears to pose a clear and immediate threat of serious violence toward others that requires containment and action to protect identified target(s).

In general, steps to conducting a threat assessment include the following:

  1. Evaluate and classify threat.
  2. Determine whether a threat has been made or posed.
  3. If threat has been made, respond appropriately (e.g., reprimand or other disciplinary action).
  4. If threat has been posed, determine whether low, moderate, high or imminent.
  5. Based on classification (see criteria above) apply response strategies.
  6. If high or imminent, conduct a safety evaluation – immediately take precautions to protect potential victim(s), consult with law enforcement, notify parents, begin a mental health evaluation, take appropriate disciplinary action.
  7. Implement a safety plan – written plan; maintain contact with student; revise plan as needed.

Reportable Offense

Conducting a student threat assessment requires preparation and appropriate training. More in-depth information is available from the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety’s Threat Assessment in Virginia Public Schools: Model Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines.

The Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety has collaborated with the Virginia Department of Education and researchers from the University of Virginia to produce the Threat Assessment in Virginia Schools: Technical Report of the Threat Assessment Survey for 2013-2014. This report describes the threat assessment process, frequency and outcomes of threat assessment, and provides information on threats.

Are schools required to take action if a student is thought to be possibly suicidal?

Code of Virginia § 22.1-272.1 requires licensed school personnel who have reason to believe a student is at imminent risk of suicide, to contact, as soon as practicable, at least one of the student’s parents. If the student has indicated parental abuse or neglect, contact with the parent is not to be made and social services is to be notified.

Reportable Offense

The law also requires the Board of Education to develop suicide prevention guidelines. For additional information, see Virginia Board of Education Suicide Prevention Guidelines.
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The Virginia Department of Health provides several links and resources for suicide prevention.

There are several federal agencies that provide significant guidance and information on suicide prevention. The National Institute on Mental Health posts information on risks, identification, individual predictors, and other topics. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a resource for persons in crisis (contemplating suicide) or persons wishing to offer assistance. They can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or on their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services offers training on suicide prevention. This program, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) for Trainers, produces certified trainers who can then work with schools, public safety, or other agencies. Visit the DBHDS website for more information.

What information is available to threat assessment teams established by local school boards?

2016 Virginia legislation (HB 1013) provides that, upon a preliminary determination by the threat assessment team that an individual poses a threat of violence to self or others or exhibits significantly disruptive behavior or need for assistance, a threat assessment team may obtain  criminal record, juvenile record, and health record information. This is now consistent with the procedures in higher education. Threat assessment team members must not share this information with anyone beyond the purposes of the threat assessment.

Are threat assessment team records discoverable through the Freedom of Information Act?

No. Virginia legislation (HB 1013) specifically excludes from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records received by the Department of Criminal Justice Services as part of threat assessment, school safety audits, and school crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plans of public schools to the extent that such records reveal security plans, walk-through checklists, or vulnerability and threat assessment components.

In addition, information held by a threat assessment team relating to the assessment or intervention with a specific individual is excluded from mandatory disclosure under the FOIA. However, if an individual who had been under assessment commits certain violent acts, any records created by the team shall be made publicly available. The personally identifying information of any person who provided information to the threat assessment team under a promise of confidentiality must be removed prior to such disclosure. 

Are school personnel protected if they alert authorities to a potentially dangerous student?

Virginia legislation extends civil immunity to any person who reports, with good faith, information that an individual poses credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students, school personnel, or others on school property. Code of Virginia § 8.01-47 extends the protections afforded to school personnel who provide information to authorities regarding potentially dangerous persons.

School Safety Personnel

Who is charged with keeping our schools safe?

In addition to traditional school personnel – administration, staff, and teachers – schools also have designated assistance to ensure safety: School Resource Officers and School Security Officers.

What is a school resource officer?

A school resource officer is a sworn law enforcement officer who is assigned, by their hiring agency, to work at a school either full- or part-time. School resource officer (SRO) is defined in Code of Virginia § 9.1-101 as follows:

“School resource officer means a certified law-enforcement officer hired by the local law-enforcement agency to provide law-enforcement and security services to Virginia public elementary and secondary schools.”

What do school resource officers do?

In accordance with the statutory definition, SROs provide law-enforcement and security services in Virginia public elementary and secondary schools. The specific duties and responsibilities, as well as basic operational procedures, are typically defined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or other written agreement between the school division and the local law enforcement agency.

The Virginia SRO program model identifies the primary role as law enforcement, which includes crime prevention and school safety activities. Additional recognized roles include law-related educator, community liaison (especially related to the juvenile justice system), and role model.

As of 2014 (as reported by the 2014 Virginia School Safety Audit), 81% of all schools in Virginia used SROs. SROs were assigned to 99% of high schools, 90% of middle schools, and 27% of elementary schools, respectively.

What is a school security officer?

A school security officer (SSO) is an employee of the local school system and is defined in Code of Virginia § 9.1-101 as:

“School security officer means an individual who is employed by the local school board for the singular purpose of maintaining order and discipline, preventing crime, investigating violations of school board policies, and detaining students violating the law or school board policies on school property or at school-sponsored events and who is responsible solely for ensuring the safety, security, and welfare of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in the assigned school.”

What do school security officers do?

In accordance with the statutory definition, SSOs have a primary responsibility to maintain order and discipline. SSOs are employed by the school division and their specific duties and responsibilities are prescribed by the employer.

Examples of typical SSO responsibilities include patrolling school buildings and grounds to ensure compliance with school rules and regulations, greeting visitors to ensure compliance with established visitor procedures, reporting any out-of-the-ordinary incidents or conditions, reporting school conduct violations and crimes in accordance with school policies and state laws, taking authorized action to protect persons and property, and participating in school safety and crisis response planning and action.

SSOs must meet requirements for SSO Certification issued through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Resources

Additional information about the SSO Certification Program can be obtained from the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety.

How do the roles of SROs and SSOs compare?

School Resource Officer

School Security Officer

1. A law enforcement agency employee

1. A school employee

2. Complying with federal, state, and local statutes

2. Complying with and guided by local school policies and regulations

3. Functions under the direction of law enforcement command

3. Functions under the direction of local school principal or designee

4. Assigned to school and community activities

4. Primarily assigned to school campus activities

5. Responsible for enforcing state law

5. Responsible for enforcing school policy

6. Responsible for custody and arrest in conformance with law

6. Responsible for detaining individuals

7. Search must be in accordance with state and federal law; search typically requires probable cause

7. Can search students and others based upon reasonable suspicion

8. Laws and custody requirement procedures apply

8. May detain and question students

9. Act under the standards of law

9. Act in absence of parents (in loco parentis)

10. Use of force is permissible as guided by department policy

10. Use of force should be limited and only used in accordance with local school policy

VDOE Discipline, Crime and Violence Definitions

The Virginia Department of Education updates DCV Definitions annually.

For more information on reporting, visit VDOE's School Safety section.

Code of Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly has posted the entire Code of Virginia online for web searching. You can perform a search by using key word(s), phrases or section numbers. You can also use the Table of Contents to view all Titles, Chapters, and Sections.

To explore the searchable Code of Virginia, go to the Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information System (LIS).