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October 6, 2016 New York Teacher issue
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why the UFT demands that the Department of Education require all schools to have a comprehensive safety plan.
It is not only a UFT demand, but a mandate in state legislation (Safe Schools Against Violence in Education, or SAVE) and part of the Chancellor’s Regulations.
A good safety plan is a detailed blueprint of procedures designed to keep schools safe during normal school operations and in an emergency.
It should include such things as the chain of command, where school safety agents are normally posted, visitor screening procedures, how to report an intruder, how to cover lunchrooms if staff on duty are absent, and provisions for security before school, while classes are in session and during after-school programs.
By the end of 2015, alarms were installed on an additional 21,000 doors at city schools to help prevent another tragedy like the 2013 disappearance of Avonte Oquendo. Your school should meet at the start of the school year to discuss how best to respond when an alarm sounds.
Every school must prepare a safety plan, review it annually and update it as the school’s needs change. Every September it must be revised and then submitted to the DOE and, later, to the NYPD for approval.
Even a good safety plan is worthwhile only if the school community is familiar with its provisions. Staff and students should know clearly what to do in everyday situations and during a crisis.
You can help to make your school’s safety plan the powerful tool it was meant to be by exercising these important rights:
- Provide ongoing input, through your UFT chapter, into the contents of your school’s safety plan.
- Enforce provisions of the safety plan through a fast-track complaint process.
The role of the safety committee
Both UFT contract Article 10B and Chancellor’s Regulation A-414 require the principal of every school to establish a safety committee. (Buildings that house more than one school must have one safety plan and one safety committee for the entire building.)
This committee, which needs to include the UFT chapter leader, must meet at least once a month. The committee is responsible for developing a comprehensive safety plan and then updating and signing off on it annually.
While the school safety plan is formally approved each fall, the safety committee can recommend revisions at any time of year in the form of an addendum until they are officially part of the school safety plan the following year.
If you see a safety problem at your school that needs to be addressed — e.g., students who leave exit doors open when they go outside without authorization or areas of the school without adequate patrol by school safety agents — you have the right to bring it to the attention of your chapter leader or other members of the school safety committee. By exercising that right, you have a voice in shaping your school’s safety plan.
In addition, staff must be trained in the safety plan on a regular basis, and schools should practice regular lockdown, shelter-in and evacuation drills.
Once your school’s safety plan spells out specific steps or procedures, you can hold the administration accountable for fulfilling its responsibilities and enforcing provisions of the safety plan through a fast-track complaint process.
Enforcing the safety plan
Under Article 10B of the contract, you have the right to file an expedited safety complaint over violations of the safety plan.
But before resorting to the formal complaint process, your chapter leader and your principal should attempt to informally resolve the safety complaint. If those efforts fail, your chapter leader will complete a Step 1 Violation of the School Safety Plan Complaint Form and present it to the principal, who must respond in writing within 24 hours.
If the complaint is not resolved at Step 1, your UFT district representative will go to Step 2 by filing a Mediation Request Complaint Form. The DOE will arrange for a mediation session within 48 hours. If you, or your chapter leader, are not satisfied with the results of the mediation, an expedited arbitration process may be used to file an appeal.
The UFT is ready to assist any chapter that needs help creating a better safety plan or addressing a particular safety problem. Your chapter leader can ask the school safety specialist in your UFT borough office for a safety plan checklist, which is a template of important provisions that every safety plan should contain.
The school safety specialist can also arrange for a UFT safety inspection to help your school identify areas of vulnerability and suggest solutions.
If you know of a safety incident, report it! The UFT has an online reporting system to make it easier for members to report threats to the safety and security of staff and students. Accurate reporting is the first step in creating a safe environment in every school. Enforce your right to a safe school by promptly reporting all safety and discipline incidents.
If a safety incident occurs in your school:
- Inform your chapter leader.
- Report it to your school administration within 24 hours.
- File a report with the DOE through the Online Occurrence Reporting System at your school.
- File a UFT incident report online at OR print and fax a paper copy of the form to 1-212-677-6612 OR call your UFT borough office and ask to speak to a health and safety representative for assistance.
If the situation is an emergency, seek medical attention if necessary and call the UFT Safety and Health hotline at 1-212-701-9407.
For more information, visit the school safety section of the UFT website.