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Risk Management Roundup

April 05, 2021 David Wylie

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When your organization chose the Fund, it joined a network of educational entities with a vested interest in collaborating to manage risk. We are excited to share positive member news from across the state, along with risk management headlines that could impact your team.

Fund member news

Here are some of the initiatives that are helping your peers protect their valuable resources. Consider how you can apply or adapt their work to meet your unique needs.

Education Week features Midway ISD school’s pandemic-fighting campaign

Woman takes temperature of another women, both wearing masksThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that based on its studies, schools with safeguards in place are safe for in-person learning. Administrators at Midway ISD’s Woodgate Intermediate School were not surprised.

Woodgate has achieved a 0.38 percent positivity rate compared with the county’s 12 percent rate.

Because of the school’s success at containing the virus, parents are largely comfortable sending their kids to campus. The percentage of students who walk through Woodgate’s doors every morning doubled from 40 percent in August to 85 percent in January.

Woodgate’s pandemic-fighting formula, featured in Education Week, includes a healthy dose of longstanding preventative measures such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

Why are basics still important?

Some of your staff might reason that the release of three COVID-19 vaccines renders the basics irrelevant. Vaccines offer the best long-term solution for reducing transmission risk and preventing severe disease and death, but:

  • Scientists suspect about 75 percent of the population needs to be resistant before herd immunity kicks and transmission plummets.
  • To prevent variants, the global population needs to be vaccinated.
  • Vaccines protect you from getting severe disease. You can still carry and spread the virus.
  • It takes about two weeks after the final dose for vaccines to provide maximum protection. You remain vulnerable until then.

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance allows most students to be seated three feet apart in classrooms. The guidelines still call for six feet of separation in certain cases.

Read more in this InsideRM article by TASB Medical Director Dr. Brian buck.

Coppell ISD earns statewide recognition for school security initiative

Law enforcement has a long history of working with schools to enhance safety and security. While the tactics have evolved, the objective of School-Based Law Enforcement (SBLE) initiatives has stayed the same: to improve relationships between local police and youth.

With that in mind, our friends at Coppell ISD launched their award-winning Collaborative Community Partnerships initiative. The team created a short, light-hearted video that portrays officers not as disciplinarians but as friends dedicated to mentoring and protecting students.

Creative relationship-building tips

Follow these tips to help your SBLE officers build positive relationships with students, staff, youth organizations, parents, and community leaders:

  • Introduce officers to stakeholders soon after the school year starts.
  • Invite officers to read to younger students and provide real-world context in vocational programs such as EMS, public safety, and corrections.
  • Make sure officers are represented at community events such as National Night Out and National Police Week.
  • Include officers on your safety and security committees, threat assessment team, and other emergency planning initiatives.
  • Collaborate with first responders on emergency drills.

Congratulations to all our award-winning members

Coppell was one of six Fund members who earned recognition from the Texas School Safety Center's School Safety Spotlight Program. Other winners include:

  • Christoval ISD - Student-Led Groups or Programs
  • Clear Creek ISD - Student-Led Groups or Programs
  • Cypress-Fairbanks ISD - Positive School Climate and Prevention Programs
  • Dr. Xochitl Rodriguez, Fort Bend ISD - Outstanding Individual Service
  • Pat Lamb, Garland ISD - Outstanding Individual Service

Risk management news

Between educating students and managing a pandemic, Fund members don’t have time to monitor risk management news that could impact them. That’s why we do the heavy lifting for you. Here is a quick look at recent headlines, along with our school-specific expertise to help you protect your resources.

Unemployment fraud runs rampant

White desktop sign that reads benefit fraud in red lettersWhen teacher Louis Rhodes was notified that the State received his unemployment benefits application, it was news to him.

" I said, 'That clearly wasn't me, because I work!' I just worked today,’” Rhodes told National Public Radio.

The federal government estimates $63 billion in unemployment benefits were stolen last year. As lawmakers continue to pump millions into a system designed to help Americans suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic, scams show no sign of tapering off.

The Texas Workforce Commission recently issued a bulletin cautioning employers about the increase in fraud. The bullet explains that in many cases, criminals hatch phishing scams to steal taxpayer’s personal information and file fraudulent claims.

Suspect fraud?

TASB Unemployment Compensation Attorney James Ezell has heard from many school districts, sometimes hundreds a day, that have been impacted by fraud.

Fund members with Unemployment Compensation coverage should follow these steps if they suspect a claim is fraudulent:

  1. Call the claimant and ask if they filed a claim.
  2. If they did not file a claim, email James Ezell the name as it appears on the claim form, the last four digits of the Social Security number, and their phone number. TWC can call the victim, and James will have the claim canceled. Please include all information in one email for everyone, and do not send unemployment applications or other TWC forms. Please do not include full Social Security numbers.
  3. Direct the victim to file an identity theft report and notify their credit reporting bureaus.

More insight from the Fund

  • Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about how to protect your district from the consequences of unemployment compensation fraud.
  • Get more tips by reading InsideRM articles written by Ezell and TASB Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Consultant Lucas Anderson.

School cybersecurity report documents record-breaking year

The 2020 calendar year saw a record-breaking number of publicly-disclosed school cyber incidents," according to the 2020 K-12 State of Cybersecurity. Many incidents resulted in school closures, millions in taxpayer dollars stolen, and student data breaches directly linked to identity theft and credit fraud.

The report cites vendor attacks as a growing risk:

  • Data breaches involving student and staff personal information were the most reported type of incident.
  • In 75 percent of cases, the security practices of school vendors and partners providing administrative services were the root cause.
  • Vendor attacks often affect multiple districts at the same time.

4 tips to protect your school against vendor attacks:

  1. Use a reputable vendor with positive reviews and a lengthy history of working with school districts.
  2. Ensure the vendor is aware of state regulatory standards that may apply to sensitive information the district maintains. Examples include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
  3. Tell the vendor about your local acceptable use policy and the types of sensitive information stored in your systems.
  4. Use resources such as Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Krebs on Security, and DataBreaches.net to see if the vendor has experienced a data breach in the past with other customers.

La NiƱa could supercharge this year's tornado season

Tornado tearing through a cornfieldWith spring weather settling in, it’s hard to imagine a winter storm walloped Texas just over a month ago. Everything about those few days in mid-February was extreme, but not unprecedented.

Rewind to roughly the same time in 2011. A massive wall of cold air shattered temperature records and wreaked havoc on Texas’ power grid. It also paved the way for the deadliest tornado season in modern history.

Forecasters fear we could be in for more of the same when tornado season kicks off in April.

What can you do about it?

Exploding electrostatic sprayers recalled

Victory Innovations recalled 432,000 electrostatic sprayers due to fire and explosion hazards. The recall applies to Victory Innovations and Protexus-branded cordless handheld and backpack electrostatic sprayers sold between January 2016 and November 2020.

Be careful with alternative applications

The pandemic has ramped up interest in electrostatic disinfectant sprayers that efficiently cover large areas. The Environmental Protection Agency advises against their use unless the chemical product label specifically includes disinfection directions for electrostatic spraying.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using liquid disinfectants. If employees do not follow safety procedures when using disinfectants, however, the same chemicals that kill the virus could introduce new health hazards. Follow these tips to protect your team and your students.

Considering ultraviolet light to kill coronavirus?

Ultraviolet lamp attached to ceilingUltraviolet light has been used for more than a century to kill mold, fungi, viruses, bacteria, germs, and even some coronaviruses. Researchers are still evaluating UV light as a tool in the campaign to control SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

If your organization is exploring the many new UV-powered products hitting the market, consider them supplements to a comprehensive indoor air quality program that prioritizes ventilation.

Edward Nardell, a professor of medicine and an expert in airborne disease transmission at Harvard Medical School, recommends schools use floor-level UV tools or ceiling-level systems to sanitize classroom air.

Do these three things before you invest in UV technology

  1. Consider its usefulness beyond the pandemic. By targeting microorganisms, for example, UV technology can make your HVAC system run more efficiently, reduce system maintenance costs, and boost indoor air quality.
  2. Request data. Some products and new technologies do not live up to their promises. Ask contractors for manufacturer-produced disinfection reports before purchasing a system.
  3. Hire trained professionals. If you want to safely harness UV’s potential, hire trained professionals to ensure you get the right solutions for your unique needs. From there, your vendor can install, inspect, and maintain your system.

Learn more about UV light and COVID-19 on InsideRM.

Make financial stability a table stake when choosing a coverage provider

Bob Reim, the author behind School Insurance Newsletter, is concerned smaller risk pools might not have the financial stability to cover winter storm claims. Pools that ask districts to take out loans to cover claims could go bankrupt before they repay their members. Contractors that are not paid by risk pools could also pursue payment from districts, cautions Reim.

How to evaluate a risk pool’s stability

You don’t have to be a certified school risk manager or a finance professional to get a feel for a risk pool’s financial stability:

Request financial statements. If a pool will not provide independently audited financial statements, consider it a red flag.

Ask about reinsurance. Reinsurance, or stop loss, is basically insurance for insurance providers. If a pool suffers large claim losses, reinsurance pays part of the tab. For example, the Fund purchases reinsurance from multiple providers, including Safety National.

Consider members’ equity. Also known as surplus, members’ equity reflects whether a pool has the financial cushion to meet its obligations when members sustain covered losses. Members’ equity also empowers pools to stabilize rates through fluctuating market conditions.

For more information about risk pools and financial stability, see this Association of Governmental Risk Pools guide.

Tagged: "campus security", coronavirus, cybersecurity, "disaster planning", "severe weather"