City schools still be­hind on safety drills

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - — Talia Rich­man

Some Bal­ti­more city schools are be­hind sched­ule in hold­ing the state-man­dated num­ber of safety drills this year.

The dis­trict rolled out an on­line por­tal last fall on which schools are re­quired to record emer­gency drills — in­clud­ing fire drills, evac­u­a­tion drills and lock­downs — as they are com­pleted.

The move to a com­put­er­ized sys­tem was in­tended to help dis­trict of­fi­cials track which schools are hold­ing safety drills more closely. Pre­vi­ously, each school turned in a pa­per log twice a year. The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported in Oc­to­ber that more than two dozen schools failed to con­duct the re­quired num­ber of fire drills last year, and school of­fi­cials pledged to im­prove.

But as of early April, 21 schools were still run­ning be­hind on fire drills, and 17 had fallen be­hind on other re­quired emer­gency ex­er­cises.

Alice Wat­son, the dis­trict’s di­rec­tor of health and safety, said the school sys­tem sends alerts and warn­ing no­tices to schools in dan­ger of miss­ing the tar­gets.

Schools that are fully cov­ered by au­to­matic sprin­klers are re­quired to hold five fire drills a year. Those with­out such cov­er­age must con­duct eight fire drills. The state also re­quires schools to hold six dif­fer­ent emer­gency ex­er­cises: lock­down, evac­u­a­tion, re­verse evac­u­a­tion, shel­ter-in­place, se­vere weather and drop, cover and hold drills.

Of these ex­er­cises, Wat­son said, most schools are em­pha­siz­ing lock­downs, in light of re­cent school shoot­ings in Park­land, Fla., and St. Mary’s County.

“Lock­down is one of the higher-per­form­ing drills,” she said.

Wat­son said some schools might be hold­ing the drills but fail­ing to log them in the on­line mod­ule.

School board vice chair­man Peter Kan­nam told fel­low board mem­bers last week that sched­ul­ing 14 drills a year might eat up im­por­tant class time.

“It does cut into in­sti­tu­tional time,” chief of schools John Davis re­sponded. “There’s a lot of ten­sion around this. It is a lot. But prin­ci­pals are plan­ning around it.”

Next year, dis­trict of­fi­cials plan to help prin­ci­pals in­te­grate drill sched­ules into their school cal­en­dars so they can stay on top of the re­quire­ments.

They plan to con­tinue mon­i­tor­ing schools and pro­vid­ing guid­ance dur­ing the 2018-2019 year, Wat­son said.

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