ALBANY -- The district safety plans in at least 17 school districts, including Schenectady, did not meet minimum state requirements, according to a new report from the state Comptroller’s Office.
The planning deficiencies were primarily related to the process of developing the plan, providing for public comments and having the school board annually adopt the plan, but some districts failed to provide staff with required training and include all necessary position on district safety teams.
“New York’s schools must be better prepared for emergencies and violent incidents,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement with the audit’s release. “We found too many schools had gaps in their safety plans that could leave them unprepared if a shooting or life-threatening incident occurred.”
While the audit report does not specify what areas specific districts fell short in, Schenectady’s safety plan for the coming school year was revised to address areas identified in the comptroller’s report. That new safety plan is posted on the district website for public comment.
Schenectady’s revisions expand the list of positions included on the district’s safety team, detail an earlier timeline for updating and reauthorizing the plan and detail safety training requirements for new employees who join the district after other staff have been trained.
The district’s updated safety plan, which still needs final approval by the school board, also added references to partnering with the city Police and Fire departments.
The biggest additions in the district’s safety plan come in the section on “prevention and intervention strategies.” The updated plan details the role of the district’s school safety officers and security monitors and details controls for visitor access. The section now also lists a variety of strategies and initiatives in place to prevent or mitigate against potential violence, including peer mediation programs, student engagement staff and family outreach efforts.
“The Schenectady City School District recognizes the importance of programs and activities that improve communication throughout the school community and that encourage reporting of potentially dangerous, suspicious or violent behavior,” according to the district safety plan.
Auditors in the Comptroller’s Office found that fewer than half of the districts examined designated a chief emergency office, defined the duties of school safety positions, outlined strategies for improving communications among students and staff or detailed certain training requirements. The districts failed to meet different requirements but none met all requirements, suggesting a lack of understanding and complying with the requirements may be widespread.
Schenectady did not provide a response to the auditors, but officials in other districts suggested state guidance on the safety plan requirements could be clarified in an effort to ensure districts better complied with them.
Schenectady district spokeswoman Karen Corona on Thursday highlighted that the audit “wasn’t about substantive safety things” and said the district was using the audit findings to refine its protocols and record management systems.
She said the district is looking to improve how it tracks what employees have received safety training to better ensure new employees receive required training.
“These were things that were found in districts that can help other districts become better,” Corona said of the audit.
The district's revised safety plan is slated for school board adoption at its Aug. 7 meeting.