Does UT law put too much emphasis on fire drills rather than lock-down drills at schools?
(KUTV) Thursday morning, a pre-planned lock-down drill took place at Bell View Elementary in Sandy City. Drills like it are something of which some educators think there should be more, but are finding it's that simple.
As Get Gephardt investigated last fall, Utah has strict rules that outline how often schools must practice for an emergency: Nine times per year for elementary schools and five times per year for middle schools and high schools.
Utah law also requires half of those drills must be fire drills. It’s a requirement that some educators believe is outdated. Fires are extremely rare whereas lock-downs, shelters in place and lockouts have become fairly common.
Through public records requests, we confirmed that as of February 15, 2018, more than 30 such emergencies have occurred for the current school year. The emergencies are usually due to police activity in the surrounding neighborhood, not violence inside the school.
Additionally, last year two schools within the Alpine School District suffered violent incidents including one where a student allegedly stabbed five of his classmates before stabbing himself.
Alpine’s spokesperson Kimberly Bird said they'd like to see the law change to allow them to scrap more fire drills and instead practice more for lock-downs, shelters in place and lockouts.
"Really the code does need to change and it does needs to reflect what's currently happening all around our communities, across the nation," she said in a 2017 interview. “We're more heavily focused on fire drills and yet when was the last time we had a fire occur at our school?”
Tuesday, Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss said she agrees with Bird.
“We need to give the schools that kind of flexibility to do those kinds of drills," she said.
Rep. Spackman-Moss taught high school for 33 years and believes fire drills are important - and not just because of threat of fires.
"We have bombs and number of things that require us to get kids out," she said.
Rep. Spackman-Moss, who sits on the House Education Committee, says she does not know of a bill currently in the works that would give more power to school administrations. She plans to talk about it with her colleagues, especially in the wake of the school massacre in Florida.
Thursday, a bill that will allow schools to add additional locks on classroom doors "for purposes of a lockdown or lockdown drill” sailed through the Utah Senate with unanimous approval.
In the meantime, school districts are doing what they can from an infrastructure standpoint. Public records show Granite School District recently acquired a bond that will invest $238 million over the next 10 years to remodel schools. Much of that remodeling being done with security in mind, Granite says.
Parents of students attending schools within Salt Lake City School District got an email from Superintendent Dr. Lexi Cunningham Thursday that talked about current safety procedures as well as plans for the future.
“Our elementary schools lock all doors except the front door, and other schools keep doors locked whenever possible to limit access to our buildings. We have security cameras in and around all schools and are in the process of installing front door security cameras and buzzers at our elementary schools. We have full-time school resource officers assigned to our high schools, and they can respond to our middle and elementary schools quickly.”
Dr. Cunningham also requested parents and students be on the lookout for suspicious activity and to report it.