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New School Safety Legislation in Wisconsin

By Abby S. Busler

In the aftermath of multiple school shootings across the country, Wisconsin lawmakers took action this past week in an effort to improve safety in Wisconsin Schools. On March 26, 2018 Governor Scott Walker signed into law provisions calculated to improve school safety. The new laws are backed by substantial grant monies for facility improvements and staff training. The provisions also include a new law that creates mandatory reporting requirements by school staff who hear threats of violence directed at schools. The following are highlights of the new laws.

Office of School Safety

The provisions include establishing an Office of School Safety within the Department of Justice (DOJ), tasked with the following duties:

  • Creating model practices for school safety, in conjunction with Department of Public Instruction and consultation with the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association and the Wisconsin Safe and Healthy Schools Training & Technical Assistance Center;
  • Compiling school blueprints and geographical information system (GIS) maps in coordination with individual schools and the Department of Administration;
  • Offering training to school staff on school safety through the DOJ or other contracted entities.

Every school board, governing body of a private school, and operator of a charter school must provide blueprints of each school building and facility to the Office of School Safety, and to local law enforcement agencies, by July 1, 2018. Every school board and governing body of a private school must also file by January 1, 2019, and before each January 1 thereafter, the following with the Office of School Safety:

  • A copy of its school safety plan.
  • The date of the required annual safety drill held during the previous year.
  • Certification that the school board or governing board reviewed a required written evaluation of the drill.
  • The date of the most recent school training on school safety and the number of attendees.
  • The most recent date on which the school board or governing body consulted with a local law enforcement agency to conduct the required on-site safety assessments.

School Safety Plan Requirements

On-Site Safety Assessments. Public and private schools are required to conduct an on-site safety assessment, in consultation with local law enforcement agencies, of each school building, site, and facility that is regularly occupied by students. The assessment is required before creating or updating a safety plan.

Content of School Safety Plan. School safety plans must be created with participation from appropriate parties, which may include local law enforcement officers, firefighters, school administrators, teachers, pupil services professionals, and mental health professionals. Previously, the school district was required to review the plan every three years. Now, the school board is required to approve the safety plan at least once every three years. The overall district plan will now require an individualized safety plan for each school building and facility that is regularly occupied by students, with guidelines and procedures to address school violence attacks, threats of school violence, bomb threats, fire, weather-related emergencies, intruders, parent-student reunification, and threats to non-classroom events.

School Violence Drills. Public and private schools are required to conduct annual drills, in accordance with the school safety plan for the school building and submit a written evaluation of the drill to the school board or governing body within 30 days after the drill.

Mandatory Reporting of School Violence Threats

The safety provisions include a new requirement that school administrators and staff who are already mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 48.981(2) (a), must also report threats of school violence. The good faith standard for reporting a threat made by an individual seen in the course of professional duties regarding violence in or targeted at a school, is based upon whether it constitutes a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of a student, school employee, or the public. Mandatory reporters are granted immunity from civil or criminal liability for making a report in good faith. School boards will be required to ensure that every employee of the school district receive training regarding the mandatory reporting of school violence. School staff members will be required to report school violence threats to law enforcement by telephone or personally.

School Safety Grant Program

The new laws include an appropriation for $100 million dollars in grant funding for the DOJ to award for school safety activities. Public, private, independent charter and tribal schools are all eligible to apply for the school safety grant funding. The grant money may be awarded for activities that:

  • Assist in compliance with DOJ model practices for school safety;
  • Provide DOJ school safety training;
  • Provide safety-related upgrades to school buildings, equipment, and facilities;
  • Assist school districts in meeting requirements to submit school blueprints to law enforcement and the Office of School Safety.

Grant applications will require a school safety plan, blueprints of each school building or facility, or a certification that previously submitted blueprints are correct, and a proposed plan for spending the grant moneys.

Given the sweeping changes in school safety, school districts should review and revise their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they are consistent with the new laws. The attorneys at Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. are prepared to assist school district officials to implement the changes and answer questions school officials may have about compliance with the new laws.

Please contact your Davis|Kuelthau, s.c. attorney, the author noted above or our School and Higher Education practice chair linked here if you have any questions.