COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

P.O. BOX 2120

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA 23218-2120

SUPTS. MEMO NO. 109

May 28, 2004

INFORMATIONAL

TO:

Division Superintendents

 

FROM:

Jo Lynne DeMary

Superintendent of Public Instruction

 

SUBJECT:

School Safety Audits

 

With specific reference to School Safety Audits, the Code of Virginia ( 22.1-279.8) requires that the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall develop a list of items to be reviewed and evaluated in the school safety audits required by this section. The section also requires local school boards to conduct annual school safety audits consistent with such list.

 

The Code ( 9.1-184) also mandates that the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) Virginia Center for School Safety (VCSS) will . . .collect, analyze, and disseminate various Virginia school safety data, including school safety audit information submitted to it pursuant to

22.1-279.8.

 

As a result of the audit information being submitted to DCJS in late spring 2003, a study entitled Review of Virginia School Safety Audit Reporting was completed in the fall of 2003. The report addresses the intricacies of the audit process and the issues that need to be addressed. The full report can be downloaded from the Department of Criminal Justice Services website at www.dcjs.org.

 

In 2003, the General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia ( 2.2-3705 (A)) to create a new exemption to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) for security plans and specific vulnerability assessment components of school safety audits, as provided in 22.1-279.8. Under this new legislation school boards retain the authority to withhold or limit the release of security plans or specific vulnerability assessment components in the audits pursuant to the FOIA exemption.

 

The Director of DCJS sought an opinion from the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council in June 2003 to clarify the question pertaining to the issue of what part of the School Safety Audits must be submitted to the VCSS. In the councils response to DCJS, the opinion stated that all of the SSA must be submitted to the VCSS and that the Code created an interagency information-sharing mandate:

 

The specific mandate for superintendents to submit a copy of the audits to the Center supersedes the general FOIA exemption that would allow portions of the audits to be withheld from the general public. .. the Center would be able to invoke the exemption if it received a FOIA request for the audits. However, it would not be in the Centers discretion to determine what particular information in any given audit is subject to the FOIA exemption. The Center must withhold the information designated by the appropriate school board as a security plan or

vulnerability assessment component. (emphasis added)

 

(A copy of the full opinion can be viewed on the FOIA Councils website (foiacouncil@leg.state.vas.us) under Advisory Opinions, June 2003.)

 

The DCJS and DOE are working together to revise, update, and standardize the school safety audit protocol. The revisions will contain a mechanism for local school boards to identify those specific portions of the audit that they want withheld from a FOIA request.

 

A pilot program will be tested in the school year 2004 2005 and implemented statewide in 2005-06. In the interim, superintendents should continue to use and submit the SSA protocols that they are currently using.

 

A full copy of the SSA protocol may be downloaded from the Virginia Department of Educations website: www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/Instruction/schoolsafety/safetyaudit.pdf. A limited number of paper copies are available and may be requested from Arlene Cundiff in the Office of Student Services at 804-225-2871 or acundiff@mail.vak12ed.edu.

 

Questions about the SSA may be directed to Arlene Cundiff or Donna Bowman, Director of the Virginia Center for School Safety at 804-371-6506 or dbowman@dcjs.state.va.us.

 

JLD/ADC/klr