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July 19, 2019

State audit reveals city schools not prepared for shootings and other emergency situations

June 16, 2019
New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, is pictured in Manhattan, New York on May 19, 2018. (Gregg Vigliotti/For New York Daily News)

ALBANY — An audit by state controller Thomas DiNapoli released Thursday found that some city schools are dangerously unprepared for a shooting or other emergency situation.

Missing floor plans, wrong phone numbers and a lack of drills and coordination with the state could put thousands of kids at risk, the audit found.

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The assessment looked at the safety plans of 25 of the city’s 1,800 schools run by the city Department of Education and found that rules in place do not always align with state regulations.

“While it’s clear the New York City Department of Education takes school safety seriously, there are gaps that must be addressed,” DiNapoli said. “Schools large and small need to do everything possible to protect students and teachers from senseless tragedy.”

The audit notes that the DOE does not require schools to submit floor plans, which state regulations identify as a critical part of school safety planning and emergency response.

Three of the 25 plans sampled were not up-to-date and missing information about construction modifications at the schools.

State regulations require schools adopt and send safety plans, such as evacuation and emergency response plans by Sept. 1 and send them to law enforcement within 30 days.

The DOE rules allow plans to be submitted more than two months after the typical beginning of a school year. Some schools did not submit their plans on time even with the extended city window.

While the city education department works closely with the NYPD, the audit notes that the agency has failed to submit plans to the State Police, as required under state statute.

Five of the schools audited did not conduct the minimum amount of evacuation or lockdown drills, and three didn’t conduct the drills in the required time frames for the 2016-17 school year.

Schools are required to complete four lockdown drills and eight evacuation drills throughout the year, according to the city.

Additionally, the audit found some school safety plans were not stored in secured locations as required by state law and one plan included an incorrect main phone number for the school and information about staffers.

The department’s district-wide safety plan was also missing key information such as procedures to test drills in coordination with local emergency responders and policies for responding to implied or direct threats of violence by visitors to the school. Descriptions of school safety personnel duties as well as screening processes and training required of staffers was also missing.

“Protecting our city’s children must be our highest priority, and we cannot wait for another national tragedy to act,” said City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Queens), who has introduced a bill that would create a School Emergency Preparedness Task Force. “It is apparent we must do better to ensure our schools have comprehensive, universal and non-intrusive protocols in place to mitigate and respond to any unthinkable emergency threats to our students and teachers.”

DiNapoli recommended that the city education department review and amend its plans to more closely align and comply with the state regulations and work with the state Education Department to develop a process to submit school safety plans to the State Police and establish a system to ensure that up-to-date building floor plans are submitted as part of the plans.

The Department of Education maintained that safety is a top priority and that each year “every school building submits an individualized safety plan that is reviewed and approved by the NYPD and exceeds State requirements.”

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“As we continue to work with NYPD on a daily basis to ensure safety at every school, we’re immediately implementing some of the Comptroller’s findings and will take others into consideration,” said DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot.

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