Legal Updates


GOVERNOR WALKER SIGNS SPECIAL SESSION LEGISLATION ON SCHOOL SAFETY

March 27, 2018

Legislative activity has been occurring at a brisk pace last week and into this week in the Special Session of the Wisconsin Legislature concerning school safety.  Regrettably, last week’s Senate vote and the Assembly Committee’s hearings took place against the backdrop of still another school shooting that took place that morning, as a student in Maryland reportedly shot and injured two students before being engaged by a school resource officer and turning his weapon on himself.

On March 20, the Wisconsin Senate approved Governor Walker’s proposed $100 million school safety plan.  After some political gamesmanship, the Assembly approved the package as well, and, yesterday, the Governor signed the legislation into law.  The legislation creates a school safety office in the Department of Justice to assist law enforcement agencies and school districts develop school safety plans.  The plan also would provide $100 million through taxpayer grants to improve school security.

The legislation also includes a number of other provisions identified as school safety measures.  Nevertheless, it seems fair to suggest that a primary focus of the bill is on school district procedures, including training of professional personnel, development of model safety practices, reporting requirements, and collaboration with local law enforcement agencies.  The bill also requires a number of specific actions on the part of school districts.

Here is a summary of the bill as signed into law by Governor Walker:

Grant Program:  The Bill creates a grant program to be administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ).  The grants are to be dedicated to school safety and safety-related upgrades to school buildings, equipment, and facilities.  Under the Bill, the DOJ must consult with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to develop a plan for awarding the grants.  The grants would be available to school districts, independent charter schools, governing bodies of private schools, and tribal schools under the terms of the Bill.

Office of School Safety:  The Bill creates an Office of School Safety (OSS) in the Department of Justice.  The Office would be required to work with DPI to develop model practices for school safety, offer training to staff regarding school safety, and compile blueprints and geographic information system (GIS) maps of school for use by law enforcement agencies.

The Bill also spells out certain requirements for school districts.  School districts are expected to coordinate with the OSS to help the Office compile blueprints and GIS maps of school facilities.  School districts also must submit a copy of the most recent blueprints of each school building and facility in the school district to OSS whenever school districts first create or, thereafter, review their school safety plan as mandated by prior law.

School districts also must provide blueprints of each school building and facility in the school district to each local law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over any portion of the school district and to the OSS; in this regard, the non-statutory provisions of this legislation state that school districts would need to satisfy this requirement “no later than July 1, 2018.”  In addition, the Bill provides that certain items must be submitted by January 1, 2019 and before each January 1 thereafter.  This includes a copy of the school safety plan; the date of the previous years required training as well as the number of attendees and the date of the previous year’s required drill; certification that the school board has reviewed the written evaluation of the drill; and the most recent time that the school board conferred with local law enforcement for in-site safety assessments.

Further guidance is expected to be forthcoming as to how these items are to be reported.

Mandatory Reporting and Pupil Records:  The Bill adopts new mandatory reporting requirements and authorizes disclosure of certain records that were treated as confidential under prior law.

Under the Bill, professionals that qualify as mandatory reporters under state statutes concerning child abuse and neglect are also required to report if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a person with whom they have had professional contact intends to commit an act of violence involving a dangerous weapon or explosive in or targeting a public, private, or tribal elementary or secondary school.

In addition, under current law, certain professionals must participate in DPI training related to identifying children who have been abused or neglected.  The Bill imposes an additional requirement and states that such professionals must also be trained in their new mandatory reporting obligations.  The Bill also specifically exempts such reports from patient confidentiality mandates that ordinarily apply to patient health information.

The Bill imposes the same penalties for failure to take appropriate action and extends the same immunity for actions taken in good faith as current laws governing child abuse and neglect.

School Safety Plans:  This Bill mandates several new procedural requirements concerning school safety.

The Bill requires that all school boards have a school safety plan in effect, approve the school safety plan at least every three years, and submit the school safety plan and information concerning its implementation to the DOJ on an annual basis.  The Bill also requires that school boards work with local law enforcement to assess safety issues in each school building, site, or facility that is occupied by students before creating or updating a school safety plan.

The Bill prohibits restrictions on the manner in which school district employees report emergencies, school violence, or threats of school violence.  In this regard, the Bill states that a school board cannot prohibit employees from making reports directly to law enforcement agencies or calling 911 when reporting school violence or the threat of school violence.

Finally, the Bill requires that school districts formulate an individualized school safety plan for each school building and facility that is regularly occupied by pupils, and establish guidelines and procedures to address specific types of events that implicate school safety.

The bill also makes some corrections to the open enrollment statute, specifically, it deletes an outdated transfer limitation provision that has expired years ago, and deletes reference racial imbalance as a basis to reject open enrollment applications. State law continued to permit a school district to deny open enrollment if permitting it would create or exacerbate racial imbalance.  The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a similar provision in a case involving the Seattle School district, in 2007.  Wisconsin law has finally been updated by removing this provision.

Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy will continue to monitor legislative activities that affect our school district clients, including proposals concerning restricting access to firearms and to components of firearms, including high capacity magazines.  We will also continue to monitor developments surrounding the implementation of the school safety legislation.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Kirk D. Strang (email kstrang@strangpatteson.com; telephone 844.626.0906), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c., attorney.

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