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Iowa School Safety

The Iowa Department of Education believes school districts must be adequately prepared for a variety of emergencies that threaten the young lives of Iowa students each day. A high-quality emergency operations plan is required for each school district and individual school buildings (Iowa Code 280.30). Plans must include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Responses to active shooter scenarios and natural disasters.
  • Provide that any alert regarding an emergency situation that is transmitted to school personnel or students by electronic means shall also be transmitted to the employer of any individual who is not a school employee but who is required to as a part of the individual's employment (e.g., district contracts with XYZ Cleaning for custodial services so all alerts should also be sent to XYZ Cleaning company so they can alert their employees on site).
  • Published procedures for school personnel, parents, and guardians to report possible threats to the safety of students or school personnel on school grounds or at school activities.

Annual emergency operations drill (table-top, walk-through, partial, or full) is required at each building students are educated. Participants (e.g., personnel, students, law enforcement officials) in the drill are determined by the boards. The plan is required to be kept confidential and shall not be public record.

The Department provides resources from Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools - Technical Assistance (REMS-TA) that assists public school districts and non-public schools with developing high-quality school emergency operations plans (EOPs). The process for developing EOPs involves working collaboratively with district and community partners to assure the developed plans are complete and reflect actual capabilities and available resources. It is critical to involve district staff, local emergency management staff, first responders, and public and mental health officials during the planning process to integrate the district plan with community, regional, and state plans. The school’s EOP should provide an overview of the school’s approach to operations before, during, and after an emergency.

The following agencies and associations worked together to create safety resources for schools: Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Department of Public Safety - Intelligence Fusion Center, State of Iowa Fire Marshal's Office, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Association of School Boards, Heartland Area Education Agency.

The guide below serves as a template for creating local school safety plans. Flip charts offer how-to advice for educators about an emergency or how to react to one. A self-assessment and threat report form are also available for school use.

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Governor's School Safety Initiative

Visit the Governor’s School Safety Initiative webpage, to learn more about the Governor's School Safety Initiative and the $100 million investment in school safety resources and support for Iowa’s public school districts and nonpublic and independent schools.

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School Operations After an Emergency

Continuity of Operations (COOP) Annex

When an emergency occurs, it may be difficult to plan for continuity of operations and learning. That is why it’s important for education agencies to create a Continuity of Operations (COOP) Annex as a part of their emergency operations plans (EOPs). A COOP Annex outlines how planning and response teams will ensure that essential functions continue during an emergency and its immediate aftermath.

Essential functions include business services (payroll and purchasing), communication (internal and external), computer and systems support, facilities maintenance, safety and security, and continuity of teaching and learning. Maximizing the strength of an education agency’s plans for continuity is an important part of the work that emergency management teams perform at the K-12 and higher ed levels to ensure that learning can continue both during and after an emergency.

Continuity of Operations Resources

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Sample Plans

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Emergency Management Virtual Toolkit

The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center has created an Emergency Management Virtual Toolkit for K-12 schools to disseminate consistent information, guidance, training, and tools on school emergency management.

The toolkit, which is divided into three sections—develop high-quality emergency operations plans (EOPs), engage youth and the community and connect with other emergency management practitioners—provides users with an opportunity to populate their own education agency’s website or emergency management webpage with the latest Federal school emergency management training and technical assistance resources and information for schools in their state or district. Registration information to install the toolkit at the local level.

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Online Courses

REMS TA Online Courses - Guide users on federally recommended information and processes for high-quality emergency operations plan development and related topics in comprehensive emergency management. Course participants can take notes and download job aids, checklists, and reference guides as they navigate through informative course modules.

Emergency Management Institute - Offers self-paced courses designed for people who have emergency management responsibilities and the general public. All are offered free-of-charge to those who qualify for enrollment.

The following courses are recommended for those interested in school emergency response planning:

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EOP Infectious Disease Resources for Schools

School EOPS In-Depth: Planning for Infectious Diseases Online Course

Emergency Exercises Package

Infectious Disease Planning Training Package

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Planning and Preparing During a Pandemic

Review, update, and implement emergency operations plans (EOPs).

During a pandemic, the most important actions for school administrators to take before reopening in-person services and facilities are planning and preparing. Regardless of the number of cases in a community, every school should have a plan in place to protect staff, children, and their families from the spread and a response plan in place for if/when a student, teacher, or staff member shows symptoms. This plan should be developed in collaboration with state and local public health departments; school nurses, parents, caregivers, and guardians; student leaders; community members; and other relevant partners. Schools should prioritize EOP components that address infectious disease outbreaks and their consequences.

Reference key resources on emergency preparedness while reviewing, updating, and implementing the EOP.

  • Multiple federal agencies have developed resources on school planning principles and a 6-step process for creating plans to build and continually foster safe and healthy school communities before, during, and after possible emergencies.
  • The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center’s website contains free resources, trainings, and technical assistance (TA) for schools and their community partners, including many tools and resources on emergency planning and response to infectious disease outbreaks. Schools may find these considerations are helpful for developing high-quality emergency operations plans.

School nurses, teachers, staff, parents, student leaders, and other community stakeholders (e.g., youth service organizations, health centers, etc.) should be involved in the development of the Emergency Operations Plans (EOP). Some of the strategies school administrators should consider while developing their EOP:

  • Develop a protocol for monitoring local data in your community to keep track of the level of community transmission, to make decisions about changes to mitigation strategies, and to help determine whether school closures may be necessary. This should include daily review of official public health data for the community surrounding the school. Contact the state, local, tribal, or territorial Public Health Department for references to local COVID-19 data.
  • Develop and test information-sharing systems (e.g., school-to-parent email or texting protocols, periodic virtual meetings with parent/teachers, etc.) with school and community partners and key stakeholders. Use institutional information systems for day-to-day reporting on information that can help to detect and respond to an outbreak, such as number of cases and absenteeism or changes in the number of visits to the health center by students, teachers, and other staff.
  • Adopt mitigation strategies to promote healthy behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19, maintain healthy school environments and operations, and plan what to do if a student, teacher, or staff member gets sick.
  • Examine the accessibility of information and resources to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthy environments and determine whether they are culturally relevant, in plain language, and available in appropriate languages and accessible formats.
  • In consultation with local officials, establish transparent criteria for when the school will suspend in-person learning to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as transparent criteria for when to resume in-person learning.
  • Assess students’ special needs (such as continuing education, meal programs, and other services) and develop strategies to address these needs if in-person learning is suspended or if a student needs to self-isolate as a result of a diagnosis of or exposure to COVID-19.
  • Ensure the EOP takes into consideration students with special healthcare needs, students experiencing homelessness, migrant students and those with English learners, etc.
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