What You Need to Know About Changes to the Pa. Public School Code

By Katherine Meehan

Reprinted with permission from the September 17, 2018 issue of The Legal Intelligencer.© 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

On June 22, 2018, Act 44 was enacted containing, among other things, new school safety provisions that have immediate requirements of schools across the state as they start the new school year. Article XIII of the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949 is amended to add sections B, C, and D which address the establishment of a Safety and Security Committee, provisions around school police and School Resource Officers (SROs), and establishing the Safe2Say program, respectively. The following are highlights of each section.

Article XIII-B

  • Establishes a Safety and Security Committee (“the Committee”) within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Security. The Committee will be tasked with surveying and assessing the safety and safety plans of schools in the Commonwealth, including a physical assessment, policy and training assessment, and student assistance and behavioral health support assessment.
  • By October 31, 2018, the Committee is required to develop a survey instrument to distribute to school entities to measure school safety and security preparedness.
  • By November 30, 2018, each school entity is to complete and return the survey instrument, and indicate whether it has had a safety and security assessment performed within the past 3 years (if so, it is to be submitted). The Committee reviews these submissions and notifies the school of its findings. The instrument is expressly not a public document and cannot be released in response to a Right to Know Law (RTKL) request.
  • A Security Grant Program is established to make available grant funds to schools to fund a variety of safety projects, including but not limited to: community violence prevention programs, conflict resolution or dispute management, school wide positive behavior support, school-based diversion programs, peer helper programs, classroom management, and student codes of conduct.
  • By August 31, 2018, each school entity must appoint a school administrator as the school safety and security coordinator for the school entity.
  • This person is responsible to review the school entity’s policies and procedures relative to school safety and security and compliance with laws regarding same.
  • Coordinate training and resources in matters relating to: situational awareness; trauma-informed education awareness; behavioral health awareness; suicide and bullying awareness; and substance abuse awareness and emergency procedures and training drills (fire, natural disaster, active shooter, hostage situation and bomb threat)
  • Coordinate school safety and assessments as necessary
  • Serve as the liaison with the Committee, Department of Education, and law enforcement.
  • Make a report no later than June 30, 2019, and each 6/30 thereafter to the school’s board on the school’s current safety and security practices that identify strategies to improve school safety and security. **This shall be done in executive session, and the report is not subject to disclosure under the RTKL.
  • Coordinate a tour of the school entity’s buildings and grounds biennially or when a building is first occupied or reconfigured, with the law enforcement agencies and first responders that are primarily the responder responsive to the school to discuss and coordinate school safety and security measures.
  • School entities must train their employees on safety and security (there is no deadline to implement the first training)
  • Means – may be done via the Internet or other distance learning
  • Frequency – at least 3 hours every 5 years
  • Credit – employees required to undergo continuing professional education shall receive credit toward that requirement if the training program is approved by PDE and the Committee

Article XIII-C

Contains detailed provisions for various police officer and SRO arrangements, including direct employment and cooperative agreements with municipalities. The new section further provides that school entities can apply to the Court of Common Pleas to appoint one or more school police officers; the powers and duties of that individual are delineated in the section. The police officer(s) appointed are paid by the district. Schools that employ a school police officer shall annually report information about the officer’s identity and training to the Department of Education and the Office of Safe Schools. The Article also allows schools to enter into agreements with local law enforcement, hire officers as independent contractors, and covers the duties and powers of SROs. The article does not preclude schools from employing other security personnel as deemed necessary.

Article XIII-D

This Article establishes the Safe2Say Program within the Office of the Attorney General. The state Attorney General is authorized to administer the program and promulgate regulations and adopt guidelines for the operation of the program. The program shall begin January 14, 2019 and shall allow for the following:

  • Anonymous reporting re: unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent or criminal activities in a school entity or the threat of such activities;
  • Establish procedures and protocols to process any anonymous tip of violent or criminal activities reported;
  • Ensure the identity of the reporting party remains confidential;
  • Ensure information is promptly forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency, school official or organization.
  • The School must develop procedures for assessing and responding to reports received from the Program
  • A record created or obtained through the Program is confidential and is not to be disclosed pursuant to a RTKL request
  • A knowingly false report is a crime, and information received in a knowingly false report is not included in the record of the subject of the false report