OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today joined other attorneys general in releasing a 14-page report identifying recommendations for changes in laws and educational policies to give students better protection from violence in their schools and on college campuses.
McKenna released the report today with other members of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Task Force on School and Campus Safety. The report focuses on key issues that came into focus as a result of the recent tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus and other eruptions of school violence across the country. It was compiled with assistance from nationally recognized experts in the field of school and campus security.
“Concerns about school and campus safety in Washington state continue to linger, following January’s shooting at Foss High School in Tacoma and the University of Washington and the Virginia Tech shootings in April,” McKenna said. “I hope this report contributes to the extensive work our state has already done in this area to make schools and college campuses even safer.”
Task force members took a broad federally focused approach and did not conduct an in-depth analysis of individual state laws and policies. Their report includes specific recommendations on threat assessments, protocols for dealing with persons with mental illnesses, information-sharing among law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders, and crisis response planning and communications.
“With a number of school violence incidents over the years both in Washington and on the national level, our state has taken a leading role in protecting the students in our public schools and colleges but it is wise to review how our laws and policies interact with federal laws and policies,” McKenna said. “I welcome the opportunity to discuss this report with Washington policy makers so we can ensure our students’ safety.”
Recommendations from the task force include:
• All schools and colleges should establish a system whereby disturbing behavior is reported to an individual or multidisciplinary team with expertise and training in risk assessment. These experts should assess the information received and put into action an appropriate response. Students, parents, faculty and other community stakeholders should be made aware of the reporting mechanism.
• State and federal lawmakers should examine privacy laws in an effort to remove barriers to effective information sharing. Appropriate state and federal agencies should clarify how information, including mental health records, can be shared under existing state and federal laws.
• Legislators should modify or enhance state laws to ensure that all information that is relevant to federal firearms laws is shared with the National Instant Criminal Background System, especially information about individuals disqualified from purchasing or possessing firearms for mental health reasons. The U.S. Department of Justice should provide clear guidance to jurisdictions on the scope of relevant records.
• State legislators should mandate that all schools and colleges that receive state funding create, maintain and update emergency management plans.
• Colleges should implement a multi-point, redundant communication system that leverages existing technology and provides information to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
• Every school and college should have mechanisms in place to allow for the anonymous reporting of perceived threats by students or faculty. The system should include educational outreach and effective follow-up by trained professionals.
• States should continue to implement and expand bullying prevention measures, including cyber bullying.
The entire report is available on the Attorney General’s Web site: http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Another/Protecting_Youth/School_Safety/FINAL%20REPORT%20090407.pdf
TASK FORCE BACKGROUND:
The National Association of Attorneys General convened the 27-member task force, chaired by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, to update a 1999 report issued by NAAG to address issues surrounding school violence. Although much of the information in the 1999 report remains relevant, the ad hoc group was created to update recommendations and determine what issues have been brought into sharper focus as a result of the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
Attorneys general represented on the task force include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Washington leads the nation in taking steps to make emergency preparedness and response a top priority. The state has already deployed the country’s first statewide, computer-based, interoperable crisis management system in more than 1,200 school campuses.
Over the past several sessions, the Legislature has approved more than $5 million to develop a statewide crisis management system and emergency response plans for every public K-12 school in the state. Emergency response plans include on-location planning sessions with local first responders and school stakeholders where campus-specific, emergency response plans are developed for all hazards including acts of terrorism.
In addition to schools, other critical infrastructure in Washington has been mapped and catalogued in the system in cooperation with Washington State Patrol, local police, fire and sheriffs departments across the state as well as the US Marshall's office.
3RD ANNUAL WASHINGTON STATE COMMUNITY SAFETY SUMMIT:
Representatives from the Virginia State Police will present a session on “Operation Prevail,” detailing lessons learned and insights into developing multi‐jurisdictional crisis response plans at the 3rd Annual Washington State Community Safety Summit, Sept. 25-27, at the Little Creek Resort and Casino in Shelton, Wash.
Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725
Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432