City schools still behind on safety drills
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.