School Safety — Does Your Child’s School Have A Plan To Handle Emergency Situations?

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Schools are supposed to be safe places for our children to learn, participate in an array of activities and be exposed to new ideas.  Indeed, schools are the cornerstone of the community and can function as more than just an academic institution.  However, as recent years have demonstrated, schools are no longer places where we can just assume our children will be safe.  Nobody likes to talk or think about it, but emergencies can and will arise in these places we feel are safe from tragedy. Disasters can occur anywhere at any time and take shape in the form of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and fires to man-made causes such as active shooters to medical emergencies such as suffocation and drowning. Emergency Action Plans (EAP) are required by law and it is imperative that administrators and teachers address the growing concern of emergency situations and ensure crisis management plans are implemented effectively.

Does Your Child’s School Have an Emergency Action Plan?

One common way schools and school districts address school safety is through the development and adoption of school safety and emergency plans. These plans detail how individual schools will prevent and address situations that threaten school safety. Additional factors may also be addressed such as student codes of conduct, disciplinary procedures, and school learning environments within the plan. Many states have statutes that specifically require every school to have a comprehensive emergency or school safety plan. Currently there are thirty-three states that have adopted such statues, including both California and Nevada.

California’s School Safety Plans

In California, each school district and individual school site is responsible for creating a school-specific plan and is required to include provisions regarding child abuse, disaster preparedness, school discipline, school dress codes, school environment, harassment policies, and safe routes to school. Every plan must be submitted to the school district for approval and the school is required to hold a public meeting to receive feedback on the plan before it is implemented.  Importantly, it is required that all of the teachers have read and are aware of the safety plan. Many resources are available for California schools that provide valuable tools and pertinent emergency preparedness information on the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) website.

Nevada’s School Safety Plans

Nevada requires each school board to appoint a development committee to cultivate a crisis and emergency plan for all schools. The committee must consult with local law enforcement agencies, local social service agencies, and the director of the local emergency management agency when developing the plan. The emergency action plan must be reviewed annually and updated when necessary. The principal of each school or the principal’s designee is then responsible for carrying out the safety plan. Like California, all teachers are required to read through and know the safety plan procedures.

What Happens When the Safety Plan Fails

Unfortunately, there are instances when the emergency action plan fails or is not implemented properly. Our firm, in particular, has encountered several cases where school districts have neglected their duties to a child’s peril.  For instance, in 2015, Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, a 19-year-old nonverbal autistic student, died from hyperthermia after he was left alone for hours on a locked school bus in a Whittier bus yard on a 96-degree day. Lee was abandoned by a substitute bus driver for Pupil Transportation Cooperative, who was arranging via text to have sex with his girlfriend instead of checking to see if anyone was still onboard. Lee relied on the driver to help him off the bus.  We reached a $23.5 million settlement with the bus company to compensate the Lee family for the loss of their son, and as part of the settlement the Whittier Union High School District and the bus company implemented ID cards and bus monitors to track all students getting on and off buses. The district also instituted a rule to call a student’s home or the bus company if the student cannot be found within 30 minutes of school starting. In addition, we worked with the state Legislature to make sure no other family has to suffer the same loss. The Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law went into effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year, the first law of its kind in the country, requiring all school buses in the state of California to be equipped with an alarm in the back of the vehicle that must be manually deactivated, so that drivers check the bus for students before disembarking.

More recently, we obtained an $11 million settlement for the family of Alex Pierce, a 13-year-old Murrieta middle school student who tragically drowned while under the supervision of Murrieta Valley Unified School District staff and personnel. In addition to the monetary settlement and as a condition of the agreement with the family, the school district will implement changes to its otherwise non-existent School Safety Plan policies and procedures.  In particular, Alex’s death has led to significant changes to Murrieta Valley Unified School District policies and procedures in regards to the safety of its students, which include providing mandatory CPR training to all MVUSD faculty and obtaining a safety check of the District’s pool facilities by an independent third party. All training and pool safety compliance inspections must be completed by May 2020, with findings made publicly available on the MVUSD website. Additionally, the Pierce family and their attorneys are working with Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) to introduce a water safety and rescue training bill to be named in Alex’s honor.

What to do if Your Child’s Safety Plan Fails to Protect Them

If your child has been injured due to a school district’s negligence, contact an experienced Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorney at 877.800.1700 to help you with your case. A lawyer can help identify who was at fault and answer any questions you may have.

Disclaimer:  Legal information presented at this site should not be considered formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future matter. Please note that you are not considered a client until you have signed a retainer agreement and your case has been accepted by us.