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Audit finds Louisiana school districts lack adequate emergency plans

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(The Center Square) — Many Louisiana schools do not have adequate emergency operations plans, despite available funding and state law that requires them, according to a recent report.

Auditors at the Louisiana Legislative Auditor produced a report last week that reviewed the status of Emergency Operations Plans in the state’s schools based on legislative interest. Senate Bill 207, sponsored by Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport, was approved during the 2023 session to revamp and increase requirements in the plans.

Louisiana has required all schools to develop a crisis and response plan since 2001, something the LLA argues is especially important in light of increasing school violence across the nation in recent years. In 2022, the Louisiana State Analytical and Fusion Exchange documented 109 reported threats of school violence, with the majority shooting or bomb threats.

“Recent surveys of schools show that not all schools had EOPs that met best practices and legal requirements,” auditors wrote. “For example, a November 2022 LDOE survey found that an average of 348 (27.7%) of responding schools were noncompliant with EOP requirements in law such as preparing EOPs jointly with appropriate emergency response officials, including and focusing on the prevention of loss of life, submission of EOPs to the appropriate local governing authorities, and updating staff on EOP revisions.”

The lack of preparedness is not due to a lack of funding. Louisiana has received about $26 million in grant funding to address school safety, including about $3.7 million specifically to develop and improve emergency operations plans.

“However, not all Louisiana schools have taken advantage of these resources,” according to the report. “For example, due in part to low program participation levels, grant administrators allowed the $3.7 million grant to expire with $1.6 million in unspent funds.

“In addition, despite available funding to schools to implement required emergency notification and anonymous reporting systems, not all schools have taken part in state provided systems nor implemented alternative systems,” auditors wrote.

The report notes that unlike other states, Louisiana does not require site assessments at schools to assess whether security measures comply with state law or best practices. State police told auditors the assessments are needed, ideally every three years, but the department lacks the funds and personnel to make it happen.

“According to (Louisiana State Police), it would need approximately $1.1 million in funding to perform routine site assessments for each school,” according to the report.

Louisiana also recommends but does not require school resource officers.

“As a result, according to (Louisiana Department of Education) survey data, at least 418 (33.3%) of 1,257 responding public schools did not have at least one SRO as of November 2022,” the report read.

Auditors offered several matters for consideration to improve the situation, including requiring a designated school safety coordinator, accountability measures for noncompliance, required site assessments and funding to do them, and mandating and funding at least one resource officer for all schools.

Officials at the education department responded to the report with a list of “some of the actions the LDOE has taken to improve school safety,” which include a safety summit, grants, an anonymous reporting app, a school safety collaborative, a Hurricane Preparedness Playbook, and a suite of emergency and recovery resources for schools maintained online.