‘Not Where We’d Like To Be:’ Idaho’s School Safety Assessments Slowed During Pandemic
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State inspectors aim to conduct safety assessments at every school once every three years. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted K-12 operations throughout the state, they were unable to adhere to their schedule during the 2021-22 academic year.
In total, the state managed to assess only 152 schools last year, which is merely one-fifth of Idaho’s 735 schools.
Mike Munger, the director of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security, expressed his dissatisfaction with the limited number of assessments conducted, stating, "It’s not up to our desired standards." He shared this sentiment during a meeting with a state advisory board on Tuesday.
The purpose of these assessments is to identify any safety issues that schools may have, such as structural flaws or inadequate procedures and policies that could potentially endanger students and staff. According to Munger, the recent assessments offer a valuable glimpse into the safety condition of individual schools. However, he cautions against drawing conclusive results from the limited data the state has collected, considering the disruptive nature of the past two years.
The mass shooting that took place at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 has sparked a nationwide conversation about school safety, shedding further light on the importance of assessments. Texas, for instance, conducted impromptu assessments following the Uvalde tragedy, even though the schools had previously been inspected.
Munger expressed his desire for Idaho to increase the number of assessments conducted, particularly now that schools have returned to a more regular schedule. However, he emphasizes that it is the implementation of training, policies, and structural improvements that truly enhance school safety. He stated, "The assessment lays the foundation."
Fortunately, federal aid has been allocated to assist with the aftermath of the Uvalde shootings. Idaho will receive $4.8 million from a federal law dedicated to gun and school safety, passed in June.
The state acknowledges the need to distribute these grants through a competitive application process, prioritizing schools with the highest needs. This could include schools with high poverty rates, those in communities with limited mental health resources, or other relevant metrics. Matt Freeman, the executive director of the State Board of Education, acknowledges that there is still much to be determined regarding this process.
On a positive note, the Office of School Safety and Security announced an encouraging update. A total of 294 schools across Idaho have enrolled in a new school safety hotline called See Tell Now! Chris Thoms, the project coordinator, anticipates that this number will continue to grow. Thoms shared that the program has already made a difference in several instances, including four cases where calls to the hotline provided assistance to students contemplating suicide. Additionally, in two cases, classmates reported concerns on behalf of their peers, while in two other cases, students reached out directly to seek help for themselves.
This article was initially published on IdahoEdNews.org on December 6, 2022.
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