Report: Not all Louisiana schools comply with emergency plan requirements

Published 9:55 am Thursday, February 15, 2024

A recent report found that not all Louisiana schools comply with Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) requirements or take advantage of school safety grant funding.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor conducted a review of the state’s school safety and emergency preparedness in state elementary and secondary public schools.

According to the report, the review was conducted in response to the legislative focus on school safety during the 2023 Regular Legislative Session. Six acts were passed last year in relation to Louisiana school safety: HB78, HB169, HB348, HB353, SB12 and SB207.

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These acts included a range of safety measures, from outlining programs on suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention to required automated external defibrillators (AED) on elementary, middle and high school campuses.

The main legislation of interest for the report is SB207, or School Safety Act of 2023. The passage of the School Safety Act requires Louisiana schools to prioritize emergency preparedness and institute crisis management response plans.

The report emphasized EOPs. This is a document that outlines how individual schools will prepare, respond to and recover from an emergency. EOPs take into account emergencies like weather events, toxic chemical releases and acts of violence. The review’s introduction stated that EOPS are becoming increasingly more important.

“Given the risk posed to students and staff during general emergencies, such as weather events, as well as the increasing prevalence and concern related to school violence, it is important that schools have adequate EOPs and other safety measures in place.”

The Louisiana State Analytical and Fusion Exchange (LA-SAFE) received 109 reports of school violence in 2022, the report stated. A bulk of these reports were related to shooting and bomb threats.

Since the start of the 2023-24 school year, multiple Calcasieu Parish School Board students have been arrested and booked on counts of terrorizing or menacing; One Sam Houston student was arrested in December for possession of a loaded firearm.

The report found that while EOPs have been required for schools by the state since 2001, the state has “not required any state entity to track or monitor whether schools met this requirement.” A survey released by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in November 2022 found that 27.7 percent of responding schools were noncompliant with EOP requirements by law.

Some of these requirements include preparing EOPs in partnership with emergency response officials, submitting EOPs to local governing authorities and updating staff on EOP revisions.

LLA’s second major finding is that while the state has received about $26 million in grant funding for school safety, many schools did not apply for resources. From calendar year 2018 through 2022, there were five grant opportunities.

One of these grants was the Grants to States for School Emergency Management (GSEM Grant.)  This five-year grant was administered in 2018 to the LDOE to help the schools develop EOPs. A total of $3.7 million in grant funding was available, but expired with $1.6 million of funds still available. Only 58.3 percent of Louisiana school districts participated. It is noted that COVID-19 and hurricane recovery contributed to decreased participation.

Another large LDOE grant opportunity that the report highlights is the $21.3 million federal Stronger Connections Grant. Thirty-nine school districts in Louisiana were given $518,355 to bolster physical security on campuses. CPSB, Jefferson Davis Parish Schools and the Vernon Parish School Board all received this funding.

The report also found that Louisiana does not require periodic site assessments for schools to make sure that physical security measures comply with state law and best practices, nor does Louisiana require public schools to have School Resource Officers.

LLA gathered information from the Louisiana Center for Safe Schools (LCCS), Louisiana State Police and LDOE and researched best practices from organizations like FEMA to complete the report.