Delaware reaches school safety milestone

 Governor Jack Markell (far left) speaks at Richey Elementary School while local troopers look on. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/ WHYY)

Governor Jack Markell (far left) speaks at Richey Elementary School while local troopers look on. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/ WHYY)

For the first time this fall, every public school in Delaware has a comprehensive safety plan that aligns with state standards and is shared with local authorities.

Officials announced the milestone Tuesday during a press conference at Richey Elementary School in Newport, Delaware.

The plans are required under the Omnibus School Safety Act, which was signed into law in 2012. The act originally gave schools five years to comply, but Governor Jack Markell pushed for an accelerated timeline.

Though Delaware schools were already required to have emergency plans prepared, those plans did not have to be school-specific or created in conjunction local first responders. The new plans do have to meet those criteria. They also must detail how a given school would respond to a wide array of emergencies: from high-frequency, low-risk events such as a burst pipe to rare threats such as an active shooter.

The new safety manifestos are also made available to staff and emergency responders via a digital tool called the Emergency Response Information Portal (ERIP). ERIP, which is compatible with mobile phones and tablets, allows officials to see instantly how their specific school should respond to, say, a fire or a flu outbreak. Each school also must have a safety liaison and a school safety team, all of whom are responsible for reviewing and maintaining the school’s safety protocols.

“School safety isn’t about door bells and locks,” said Brian Moore, Public Safety Director for the Red Clay Consolidated School District. “It’s about a mentality.”

In the past, said Wendy Davis, director of the Comprehensive School Safety Planning (CSSP) program, school safety plans might consist of a reminder to call 9-1-1 written on a post-it note.

“That’s not a plan,” Davis said.

The comprehensive safety plans, she said, give school staff a sense of urgency when it comes to emergency response. Rather than default to local authorities, schools staff will see themselves as first responders. Delaware Capitol Police Chief John Horsman said the shift in mentality is necessary since staff are often the ones who must act first during a crisis.

“The first responders are going to be staff and teachers,” said Horsman.

More than simply creating documents, officials said they want to create community buy-in when it comes to establishing and ensuring a safe learning environment.

“It takes a village to raise a kid,” said Red Clay’s Brian Moore. “It takes a village to protect one, too.”

Governor Markell was on hand for Tuesday’s announcement, along with a group of state troopers and a pack of Richey Elementary School students known as the “Paws Patrol.”

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