The Senate Education Committee is considering legislation to decrease from 16 to nine the number of safety drills performed annually in public and private schools.
Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., and former early childhood educator, said Senate Bill 128 is a better approach to management of school drills and will help moderate stress levels in early-childhood classrooms that are required to perform drills.
“This bill is a move back in the right direction,” she said, “and it meets our safety needs within our schools."
During the current academic year, all schools in Kansas — except colleges and universities — must complete 16 emergency-preparedness drills during school hours. The current standard is nine crisis drills, four fire drills and three tornado drills. The Senate bill amends the requirement to three crisis drills and two tornado exercises each year, while retaining the four fire drills.
Kansas Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen, a proponent of the legislation, said during the Senate committee's hearing Monday there may be a need for a couple of revisions. He said it would make sense to move the spring tornado drill from April to March, because April might be too late in the year.
He also said legislators should work with the Kansas State Board of Education to include language allowing exceptions for school buildings serving students with special needs.
“The language could be as brief as, ‘the fire marshal being able to issue variances in different, specific situations,’ ” he said. “That way it doesn’t tie (legislators) down to just one type of school, or that particular situation. It allows our office to review any concerns that any school might have.”
G.A. Buie, executive director of United School Administrators of Kansas and Kansas School Superintendents Association and a proponent of the bill, polled district superintendents and 150 school principals. He said 95 percent support reducing crisis drills and many are ready to water down the frequency of fire drills.
“We believe the bill provides ample time to teach, remind and create responsible responses to situations our students might experience at school and in life,” he said.