Audit: Wisconsin school safety plans follow best practices

MADISON — Wisconsin school safety plans adequately cover most safety guidelines and procedures, according to an audit released Wednesday that took a first look at a $100 million grant program.

The Legislature in 2018 created the school safety grant program within the state Department of Justice after a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker signed the program into law days after thousands marched in Madison, Milwaukee and across the country to demand gun control. Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature, in creating the school safety grants, said gun violence wasn't the right focus.

The money was used by schools to make a variety of improvements, including installing electronic door locks, cameras for surveillance and monitoring and video intercom systems.

State law requires schools to submit safety plans to the Wisconsin Department of Justice covering what to do in emergencies, such as an active shooter. As of April 2019, more than 61% of schools had submitted 779 school safety plans, the report by the nonpartisan Legislature Audit Bureau found. Nearly all of those plans, 85%, contained adequate safety guidelines and procedures for at least six of seven school safety situations like attacks in school, fire and weather-related emergencies, the audit said.

However, some school safety plans have relatively little information about how to handle certain situations, the audit found. The report said only about half of plans reviewed had guidelines and policies for non-classroom emergencies. The audit also said only about half of plans had guidelines for parent-student reunification and many of those plans were not detailed.

The audit reviewed nearly 19% of the grants awarded by the state Department of Justice and found no problems with how the program was administered. The 1,325 grants totaling $94.5 million were awarded to school districts, private schools, independent charter schools and tribal schools across Wisconsin.

The $5.5 million remaining will be used by the Justice Department to support school safety initiatives, including grants for adolescent mental health training.

The audit also surveyed more than 1,200 school administrators and 521 law enforcement agencies to ask about school safety. Respondents from both the schools and police organizations said they were satisfied with various aspects related to school safety, including cooperation in creating the safety plans and administration of the grant program.

State Sen. Rob Cowles, co-chair of the Legislature's audit committee, said the review of best practices will help schools to refine and improve their plans.