Recent incidents across the country have raised awareness of issues surrounding student preparedness for fire or school security threats. We have compiled the below as a gentle reminder to ensure that students with disabilities have access to security drills and safety measures.
On January 10, 2022, Governor Murphy signed legislation (A-5727/S-3726, P.L. 2021, c. 365) which requires security drills to remain age appropriate and prevent unnecessary traumatization of schoolchildren. Among other requirements, the legislation prohibits the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, the simulation of gun shots or explosions, or any sound or visual that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student during the course of a school security drill. The intent of the legislation is to balance between ensuring that students are informed and prepared, and their mental health and well-being. In pertinent part, the Act provides that a school district shall ensure that a security drill that occurs when students are present ... “is accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students.”
Second, the introduction of S-2057 on March 3, 2022 requires certain documentation of the needs of students with disabilities during school security drills and emergency situations and in school security plans, and requires corresponding staff training. As amended in the Senate on June 20, 2023, the proposed Act provides for the full participation of students and staff in fire and school security drills “to the greatest extent practicable” along with the utilization of procedures “for assisting in the rescue of persons unable to use the general means of egress to ensure that participation does not pose a safety risk.” Further, the training for such drills “shall incorporate information on the unique needs of students with disabilities,” and:
[Employees] shall be made aware of any anticipated mobility, sensory, medical, social, communication, emotional, regulatory, and decision-making support needs of students in the care of the employee and any supports, modifications, accommodations, and services to be provided to students, as enumerated in their individualized education programs, individualized health care plans, 504 plans, or services plans ...
Moreover, the training provided to full-time employees must model that provided by the New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy, and incorporate various formats such as drills, functional exercises and tabletop exercises. All training and information shall address the unique needs of students with disabilities in the event of a fire drill, school security drill or actual emergency situation.
Finally, pursuant to the proposed Act, the Commissioner of Education shall, in consultation with the Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and others, develop and disseminate to each school district a building security drill guide and training materials that educate employees on proper evacuation and lockdown procedures in a variety of emergency situations. Such materials “shall incorporate information on the unique needs of students with disabilities and include standard protocols and procedures for accommodating those students during drills and actual emergency situations.” The school district must also ensure that a student’s unique mobility, sensory, medical, social, communication, emotional, regulatory, and decision-making needs in the event of a drill or actual emergency situation is maintained in the student record. The documentation maintained in the student record shall indicate whether or not the student is able to safely and fully participate in drills without the use of supplementary supports, modifications, accommodations or services, or if same are needed, including determining areas of refuge during an emergency. If supports, modifications, accommodations or services are needed, a written plan must be maintained in the student record. The proposed Act sets forth the information to be included:
1 This document is intended to be read in conjunction with the State School Security Drill Guide (N.J.S.A. 18A:41-1), as well as the Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights (N.J.S.A. 18A:46- 2.8).
• A description of the student’s anticipated mobility, sensory, medical, social, communication, emotional, regulatory, and decision-making support needs during a drill or actual emergency situation;
• A description of the supports, modifications, accommodations or services to be provided; and
• A description of the role of school employees in supporting the student, including the need forany specific training needed for the school employees
Schools will be required to demonstrate that they have considered the individual needs of each student with a disability in the development of its districtwide school safety and security plan and protocols.
This proposed legislation was passed by the Senate on June 26, 2023 (36-0) and was received in the Assembly for Second Reading on June 27, 2023. Its passage will provide school districts with needed clarity on how best to ensure the safe participation of students with disabilities in school security drills and emergency situations, and corresponding staff training needs.
This Alert provides information about the current developments in New Jersey education law. It is necessarily general and not intended as legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. . Questions about individual issues should be addressed to Jaclyn M. Morgese at email@example.com of Cornell, Merlino, McKeever & Osborne