A focus on school safety
New legislation aims to help LEAs address threats, violence and cybertattacks
Neon Caution Sign

While high academic achievement for every student is a top priority for districts and county offices of education, paramount to this goal is the safety of students whose care has been entrusted to board members, administrators and teachers.

According to the National Institute of Justice Journal’s article “What Do the Data Reveal About Violence in Schools?” published in 2020, levels of overall violence declined from 1992 to 2017, with trends that pointed to decreases in violent crime, serious violent crime and bullying in schools. However, the article also found an increase in multiple-victim homicide incidents. A more recent report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2021 found that there were “93 school shootings with casualties at public and private elementary and secondary schools in 2020–21, the highest number since 2000–01,” recognizing that some occurred on school campuses during COVID-19 remote instruction. The 2021 report also found an increase in incidents of cyberbullying, verbal abuse of teachers, student acts of disrespect for teachers, and widespread disorder in the classroom. And sadly, the violence seems to be getting worse. Education Week’s 2022 “School Shooting Tracker” states that “there have been 40 school shootings this year that resulted in injuries or deaths, the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such incidents in 2018.” These statistics include the most recent school shooting, which occurred in St. Louis on Oct. 24.

Cyberattacks are also on the rise. The Assembly floor analysis to Assembly Bill 1352 states “… the education sector experiences over 63 percent of all enterprise malware encounters worldwide.” It also says that “cyberattacks on schools are particularly harmful, as they have the potential to interfere with a school’s educational mission by prohibiting normal instruction, and can also result in the disclosure of highly sensitive pupil records.” The September 2022 ransomware attack on Los Angeles Unified School District exemplifies the vulnerability of districts and the damage that can ensue. And technology-based threats can go beyond district-owned infrastructure. Threatening and/or suspicious digital media content can lead to heartbreak as occurred in Uvalde, Texas.

New legislation

Recent legislation in California has resulted in new laws that address school safety, each of which focuses on different aspects. A brief review is worthwhile to understand some of the issues and work towards prevention.

  • Senate Bill 906 requires districts and county offices serving students in any of grades 1-12 to include information, informed by model content developed by the California Department of Education, related to the safe storage of firearms in the annual notification to parents and guardians, starting with the 2023–24 school year. It also requires employees and board members whose duties involve regular contact with students in any of grades 6-12 who observe any threat or perceived threat of a homicidal act to immediately report the threat to law enforcement. Lastly, the bill requires district police and security departments, peace officers employed or contracted by a school, district or county office, and a local law enforcement agency with geographic jurisdiction over a district or county office to immediately conduct an investigation and threat assessment when notified of a threat or perceived threat of a homicidal act, which includes a review of the firearm registry of the Department of Justice, and if justified by a reasonable suspicion that it would produce evidence related to the threat, a search of the school.
  • AB 2508 urges districts to provide access to a comprehensive educational counseling program within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports framework, and for districts that provide a comprehensive counseling program, to include mental and behavioral health services under which a student may receive prevention, intervention, short-term counseling services and mental health-related classroom instruction to reduce stigma and increase awareness of counseling support services, and to include in the responsibilities of school counselors an increased focus on student’s mental and behavior health.
  • AB 1352 authorizes districts and county offices to request the Military Department, in consultation with the California Cybersecurity Integration Center, to perform an independent cybersecurity assessment of the district or individual school.
  • AB 2355 requires districts that experience a cyberattack that impacts more than 500 students or personnel to report the cyberattack to the California Cybersecurity Integration Center.
  • AB 486 requires, in order to receive classified service status, a full-time district police officer or public safety dispatcher who operates a dispatch center certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to serve in a probationary status for not less than one year from the date of appointment.

In addition, the Luke and Alex School Safety Act of 2022 is federal legislation that addresses school safety by requiring the creation of a Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Evidence-Based Practices.

The wide range of legislative topics serves as an indicator that school safety, and measures to prevent violence, requires a comprehensive approach.

To reflect the recent legislation on school safety, CSBA updated sample BP/AR 3515.3 – District Police/Security Department, BP 4216 – Probationary/Permanent Status and BP 6164.2 – Guidance/Counseling Services as part of the September Packet and plans to update in the December Packet BP/AR 0450 – Comprehensive Safety Plan, BP/AR 3515 – Campus Security, AR 3516.2 – Bomb Threats, BP/AR 5131.7 – Weapons and Dangerous Instrument, and BP/AR 5142 – Safety.

While it is always the right time to consider school safety, the recent legislation and updates to policy materials impacted by the changes in law makes this an especially relevant moment for boards to review and discuss school safety measures.