Report shows Idaho public schools vulnerable on safety and security

(Idaho Falls) Post RegisterFebruary 14, 2014 

How safe are Idaho’s schools?

A report made public Thursday by the state Department of Education shows many public schools appear to be coming up short when it comes to safety preparedness. The report, compiled from a 10 percent sampling of state public schools, showed a majority of those sampled have safety and security issues.

The report — “Idaho Safety and Security in K-12 Schools: A Snapshot in Time” — summarized results from the sampling in an effort to get a sense of school safety preparedness statewide. Data was collected from September to December 2013 at 74 of the state’s roughly 730 public schools. The schools were selected randomly.

The two independent contractors hired to conduct the study said the results are disturbing.

“We’ve always tried to make schools very open, very welcome and very community-centered,” independent contractor Brian Armes said. “Well, in that process, the other thing we’ve done, is we’ve left (schools) wide open and very vulnerable to all kinds of threats.”

Armes spent nine years an elementary principal in Bonneville Joint School District 93. He left his position in June.

Fellow independent contractor Guy Bliesner worked in District 93 for nearly 20 years, starting in 1994 as a teacher at Bonneville High School. Bliesner also left the district in June after spending his last eight years there as the district’s safety and security coordinator.

The two submitted the safety report in early January. Both were troubled that the report wasn’t published until now and that it still hasn’t formally made it to the Legislature.

“We worked very hard to make sure it was in State Department hands by January,” Armes said. “I would have thought safety and security would certainly be one of the priority items in our legislative session. When it’s mid-February, I’m not sure if that timeline reflects that same priority that I would have felt.”

Also worrisome, Bliesner said, was Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s $300,000 budget proposal for school safety projects, which amounts to about $1.07 per student. By contrast, the governor proposed $2 million for a wolf control board, which Bliesner said comes to $2,000 to $4,000 per wolf, depending on which wolf population figure is used.

“I believe a budget proposed by a politician is a statement of what he believes,” Bliesner said. “I don’t believe there’s a general understanding of the magnitude of problems in school safety and security statewide by our policymakers and elected officials. They don’t get it.”

Findings in the report include:

- In 71 of the 74 schools sampled, entrance to the school was achieved by some means other than the designated main entrance.

- In 63 schools, staff was not properly trained in standard emergency procedure. In 29 schools, staff was trained in recognizing suspicious people and behavior on campus.

- Ten schools met all emergency operation plan requirements. Those requirements include that a school’s plan is reviewed and updated annually; that it contains updated maps, a site plan and detailed information pertaining to site specific emergency problems; and that local first responders are an integral part of the planning. All schools sampled demonstrated some level of planning and training, but didn’t meet every requirement.

The report showed visitor policies varied widely across schools. Twenty-seven schools required visitors to wear a visible, dated visitor badge. Nineteen required a visitor’s pass but no date or identification needed. Twelve required some sort of positive identification.

“The overall message is, we are incredibly vulnerable,” Bliesner said. “Threats are bad things that can always happen, and those are always there. Vulnerable is, ‘How easy is it for something to happen at your school?’ That’s the only thing a school can change and we’re vulnerable as a system to a large number of threats.”

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