Educational entities have faced multiple challenges the past three years. You are working hard to comply with legislative updates to your safety and security program, as well as serve your stakeholders during a pandemic. Your plate got fuller this month, when the Texas School Safety Center asked for copies of your emergency operations plan (EOP), continuity of operations plan (COOP), and communicable disease annex.
It all adds up to unique circumstances heading into the 2020 District Audit Report. Because of the pandemic, the Texas School Safety Center extended the audit submission deadline from September 15 to November 15, 2020. Here are some essentials you need to know to complete your audit timely and accurately.
District audits 101
Texas Education Code 37.108 requires school districts and community colleges to complete a safety and security audit at least every three years. The audit is a self-assessment of the organization’s safety and security, designed to identify best practices and improvement opportunities.
The Texas School Safety Center develops the audit tool, collects the results, and produces a report based on aggregate data. The report represents the culmination of your efforts to provide campuses that are safe, secure, and healthy places to learn and work. It also gives the Texas Legislature a snapshot of school safety and emergency management capabilities over the past three years.
What’s new in 2020?
This year’s audit includes familiar questions that address campus access, safety and security, risk reduction, and climate surveys. Stakeholders who have been involved in previous audits will also see new questions designed to ensure compliance with recent legislation, including Senate Bill 11. Three of the bill’s high-profile mandates address safety and security committees, emergency operations plans, and threat assessment teams.
Safety and security committees
Safety and security committees are not new to Texas, but SB 11 required districts to expand their membership. Your organization must verify, for example, that the committee includes staff, parents, and board member representatives, as well as external stakeholders such as emergency management, law enforcement, and fire departments. The committee’s cross-functional representation makes members a perfect fit for the audit team.
As part of the audit, you will also verify that the safety and security committee meets at least three times a year and that the emergency operations plan includes member names and meeting dates. Remember that committee activities may be subject to the open meetings act.
New audit questions will ensure that your organization updated its EOP to reflect SB 11. For example, your plan must now address prevention as an emergency management phase in addition to preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. A good EOP addresses all legislative requirements, reflects a whole community approach, and outlines incident and event response.
Threat assessment teams
Finally, SB 11 introduced threat assessment and safe and supportive school teams for each campus. The teams assess risks and threats in schools and provides students with the appropriate intervention to support their needs. Collaboration drives the threat assessment process. Verify that your assessment teams include people with expertise in areas such as mental health, safety, law enforcement, special education, and classroom management.
Reporting to the board
When the audit is complete, consolidate the results into a report and present it to the board of trustees as outlined in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code. The organization decides which information to report to the board.
There is no deadline for submitting the board report, but it should be done before the audit period ends on August 31. If that is not possible, plan to present the results as soon as you can, preferably during 2020. You might be able to streamline the process by printing a copy of your submission to the Texas School Safety Center through the online portal.
The safety and security audit should be listed as an agenda item on a properly posted meeting notice in accordance with open meeting rules. The report should be presented to the board in a closed meeting by citing available exceptions under Chapters 418 and 551 of the Government Code allowing confidential deliberations. If the district receives a public information request for a copy of the report, involve your school attorney to consider whether the district should seek nondisclosure under Chapter 552 of the Government Code.
Focus on security year-round
The audit process happens only once every three years, but your organization should focus on safety and security year-round. By committing the necessary time and resources, you can stay ahead of the constantly evolving risk landscape and protect your students, staff, and community. You might even pave the way for a smoother 2023 audit.
Here are a few tips for keeping security top-of-mind:
- Map out regularly scheduled EOP reviews and updates, as well as safety and security assessments.
- Develop a corrective action plan based on the audit, and follow up to ensure it was effective. The same goes for the results of drills, exercises, and EOP reviews.
- Take advantage of webinars and other training opportunities exclusively for Fund members.
Use your tools
Fund members can reach out to Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss for guidance on completing their audit. Due to COVID-19 staff is primarily conducting virtual visits. Any organization can use the Texas School Safety Center toolkit for audit best practices and downloadable job aids.