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State superintendent 'not satisfied' with current school safety procedures

By Nadine Wimmer | Posted - Feb 7th, 2013 @ 11:34pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- In the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut, Utah parents want to know if schools have procedures in place to keep their children safe in a crisis.

A KSL Investigation of every district and charter school in the state revealed major discrepancies in many key areas, including how the plans are made and how critical data is being tracked. In fact, the head of Utah schools himself says he's not satisfied with the status quo.

In today's environment, what were once standard school safety drills take on a whole new level of seriousness for everyone, including Utah State Superintendent Martell Menlove.

"The governor said to me, 'Martell, can you guarantee me that these things are happening?'" he said.

Menlove issued a statement on Jan. 10 to every district superintendent and charter school administrator. It reemphasized current policies and reminded them to be vigilant.

It reads in part:

"Although my experience is that the above is occurring, questions from government leaders and concerned citizens are unanswered because I do not have sufficient data concerning this critical topic."

"I'm honestly not totally satisfied with what we're doing in this office as far as assuring compliance with the code and with our own board rule," he told KSL.

Utah code is essentially a check-the-box, yes-or-no system. Very little is required beyond that.

KSL asked every district for more detail on 10 key points. The answers were all over the map.

Of the state's 41 districts, 39 offered district-wide emergency plans. Think of them as templates given to schools for principals to base their own plans around. The rules state all districts must have a plan; however, they may also direct schools to develop and implement their own plans - no district template required. Two districts have chosen this route, which means principals and safety committees in 19 schools draft their own plans and then submit them to the district.

Schools using their district's plan are required to customize it for their needs. But KSL has learned at least 65 schools in five districts have not.

"It's my opinion that every district and every charter school has a plan," said Menlove. "I can't speak to the quality of those plans. I haven't audited at this point in time to see. I, again, I would like to allow some time for those things to happen."

When it comes to keeping parents informed, many said they were still in the dark.

"I'm not sure what the policies totally are," said mother Kelly Stam.

Code states all parents must receive a written notice on the plan at the start of each school year, but few schools complied. Some districts notified parents in handbooks or websites, some talked about it in meetings and others gave out information upon request.

Then there's the safety drill. Schools must conduct specific drills each year according to certain schedules outlined in the Utah Administrative Code. While every district says it's completed this requirement, there's no way to prove these drills are actually taking place.

"That's what I can't assure you with," said Menlove. "Everyone marks a box that says, ‘Yeah, we're doing it.' But, yeah, I would like to know when did you hold these drills? When was the last time you talked to your local law enforcement? So that's the type of data that I'm going to ask for from superintendents and charter directors by July."

Menlove says he's drafting new reporting standards now. Districts and charters will have until July 1 to meet the requirements.

Menlove says, while revisions need to be made, he believes most administrators are concerned about safety.

"I was recently with a group of secondary principals, 40 of them," he said. "I said to them, ‘How many of you have had conversations with your faculty recently about school safety?' Every hand in the room went up."

KSL discovered many schools already taking proactive safety measures. For example, at a growing number of school buildings you can no longer walk through the front door.

"They have to be buzzed in by the office staff before they have access to the rest of the building," said Principal Alice Peck of Oakdale Elementary School.

"I really am excited about this new security system that they have implemented," said mother Stacey Timmerman.

Endeavor Hall also installed a buzz-in security system at the beginning of the year. Visitors "ring the doorbell" and identify themselves, says Principal Luis de la Cruz, then they make a beeline for the office. Staff members sign everyone in and give them a visitor's tag.

"It really helps us to know how many people are in the building at any given time," he says. "If there was some sort of a problem we could say, 'Well, there was only two visitors in the class and they were accounted for.' We know where they were. No one was just out roaming around on school campus."

In Ogden, school resource officers met with every principal in the district and reviewed every plan.

"Ninety percent of the active shooters have a known layout of your school floor plan," said Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle. "You've got to know your floor plan. You've got to know where entrances are and exits are and that type of stuff because if you don't, they do."

Layton and Canyons schools have asked watchdog dads to volunteer for duty. Granite School District priced bulletproof glass - $400 per square foot.

In the most controversial measure of all, teachers are getting armed. Hundreds of faculty members have already applied for concealed firearms permits. At an Active Shooter meeting in Box Elder, one principal said 27 of his teachers were signing up.

When asked if teachers should be armed in school, Menlove said he was "comfortable" with Utah's current law - and he's not alone. According to a recent Dan Jones - 62 percent of Utahns favor allowing teachers to have guns, but 82 percent said they think parents have the right to know if their child's teacher is carrying.

Right now, Utah law does not require teachers to disclose if they have a gun. In fact, if they do, the weapon is no longer considered concealed. Menlove said he would support at least one change to the current rule - allowing the administration to know. "So, if we do have a situation, someone can at least meet law enforcement at the door and say, 'be careful when you go down to Ms. Jones's classroom because she has a permit and she may be carrying,'" he said.

Despite all the discrepancies in the current system, Menlove says he's hopeful these things can be changed in a way that will ensure the safety of Utah's children.

"Part of my intention will be to randomly walk into some districts and charters and say, let me see your plan," he said.

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