R.I. agencies, school officials, law enforcement, firefighters join forces to design the guide
Providence, RI - Governor Chafee today unveiled the Model School Safety Plan developed in the wake of school incidents and in response to legislative mandates. The 300-page strategic blueprint incorporates best practices and state requirements into a guide for creating safer schools and making students feel more secure. "Through these documents, we are taking vital steps to safeguard our children and ensure that the communities where they live are properly protected," Governor Chafee said. "More than a year later, the Sandy Hook shootings are still a reminder that horrific incidents can occur anywhere. I commend the many state agencies and safety officials who worked together to create an opportunity where Rhode Island school administrators, faculty, staff, students and the community all feel confident and assured." Representative Joseph M. McNamara, Chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, and Senator Hanna M. Gallo, Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, introduced the legislation on behalf of the Governor. "The legislation I sponsored last year is intended to ensure we are regularly monitoring our procedures, constantly improving them where we can, and making certain that all the lines of communications among the schools and various state agencies and emergency services are open and working toward a common goal of keeping our schools safe and secure," Representative McNamara (D—Dist. 19 in Warwick, Cranston) said. "This legislation was developed collaboratively among the Senate, House and administration, and regular collaboration among education and public safety officials will ensure its success. The law strengthens the safety of students and educators by bringing together many stakeholders for our shared goal of school safety," Senator Gallo (D – Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick) said. "It could not have happened without the strong support of the leadership in the Senate and House and Governor Chafee, and I thank them as well as Chairman McNamara, who worked closely with me to develop this initiative." Mandated by legislation, The School Safety Model Plan was signed into law by Governor Chafee in July of 2013. The law requires school districts to work with local police and fire departments to conduct a school safety assessment and create an emergency plan. The Model Plan was developed in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA), Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH), Rhode Island Department of Public Safety, Rhode Island State Police and the Division of the State Fire Marshal. "As educators, we focus a great deal of our energy on improving teaching and learning, but we must never forget that one of our primary responsibilities is to ensure that our schools are safe and secure places for students and for staff members," Deborah Gist, Commissioner of RIDE, said. "The tragedy one year ago in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted us to partner with the RIEMA to review all current school-safety plans and to develop a model plan that school districts can adopt or modify to meet their individual needs. All of us are grateful that our schools remain safe learning environments, and we will continue to work with RIEMA, state and local safety officials, and all local communities to ensure the continued safety and well-being of our children." "RIEMA is proud to work on such an important issue," Jamia McDonald, Executive Director of RIEMA, said. "The model school safety plan represents thoughtful and strategic efforts to further protect schools, and provide standardization and constancy in school safety planning. This joint initiative will enhance preparedness and response procedures for school systems and local communities in Rhode Island." "The Department is pleased to be part of this important effort," Craig Stenning, Director of BHDDH, said. "We are keenly aware that the real threat of inter-personal violence has made it imperative for schools to enhance the safety of all children and the professionals who serve them. A crisis response team is available to work with students and staff on a variety of health and safety concerns including trauma, student mental health issues and grief counseling." "The collaboration of many different stakeholders has yielded a plan that will comprehensively address the needs of students, teachers, parents and first responders. The plan is also designed to evolve to national trends and best practices," stated Colonel Steven G. O'Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety. The key documents in the new resource include an emergency planning guide; and two FEMA publications on how to develop high-quality emergency operations for K-12 and Higher Educational institutions. "The events of Newtown required that we take a hard look at the safety of our schools here in Rhode Island. This model plan, which addresses all disciplines, will serve to allow local districts to ensure that all facets of school safety are addressed," Rhode Island Fire Marshal John E. Chartier said. "Good solid safety plans are a necessity if we are to address this issue collectively and efficiently. This model plan will provide the foundation to focus our efforts and ensure safety in our schools." "Prior to this initiative, school safety teams comprised of educators, administrators, police, fire and emergency responders met regularly to review school crisis plans, to include identifying operational and structural vulnerabilities in our schools. However, the creation and introduction of the Model School Safety Plan has undoubtedly improved the planning process by adding specific criteria and requesting crucial data elements that provide for more detailed emergency planning, which establishes uniformity statewide and further enhances the safety of children and adults in our schools," President of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs' Association and Richmond Police Chief, Elwood M. Johnson, Jr. said. "I can tell you firsthand, having been involved in reviewing this plan with our partners in our area schools, that this document helped to expand our planning concepts and facilitated more detailed discussion by our safety teams." School committees are now required on an annual basis to update safety and emergency plans and procedures. By December 31 of each year, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education must present a safety assessment to the General Assembly and the Governor. For more information, contact RIEMA at 401-946-9996.