Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018: What You Need to Know

SB 1265, Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018, passed the General Assembly on the final day of the 2018 legislative session and has been signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan. The legislation creates a variety of statewide standards and guidelines. The bill requires public high schools to have either a school resource officer or plans for adequate law enforcement coverage by the upcoming school year. Public middle and elementary schools will need to have either a school resource officer or plans for adequate law enforcement coverage in place prior to the 2019-2020 school year.

School Safety and Security Funding Overview

The 2018 Maryland General Assembly approved the following funding to enhance school safety:

One-Time Funding:

  • $2.5 million in safety assessment grants to be administered by the Maryland Center for School Safety
  • $10 million in MSDE administered school safety grants
  • $10 million in grants to be administered by the Maryland Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) for safety-related operating and capital projects
  • $10 million in school safety improvement grants provided in the capital budget

Permanent Funding:

  • $10 million in mandated funding in FY 2019 and beyond for school resource officers (SROs) and other local law enforcement strategies to provide adequate school coverage
  • $2.5 million for 13 new positions at the Maryland Center for School Safety

SB 1265 – Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018

The following outline draws from the detailed analysis provided in the bill’s fiscal and policy note.

School Resource Officers

A school resource officer is defined as (1) a law enforcement officer assigned to a school in accordance with a memorandum of understanding between a local law enforcement agency and a local school system or (2) a Baltimore City School Police Officer, as defined in current law. By September 1, 2018, MCSS, in consultation with local school systems, must develop a specialized curriculum to be used in training SROs that addresses specified issues. The curriculum must be submitted to the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) for approval. By March 1, 2019, MCSS must develop and submit to MPTSC for approval a model training program based on the curriculum. Each local law enforcement agency must enroll SROs either in (1) the MCSS model training program or (2) a local training program approved by MPTSC that is consistent with the approved curriculum. All SROs must complete an approved specialized training program by September 1, 2019.

MCSS must collect specified data on SROs and, by December 15, 2018, develop guidelines based on its analysis of the data to assist local school systems in (1) determining the appropriate number and assignment of SROs, including supplemental coverage by local law enforcement agencies and (2) collaborating and communicating with local law enforcement agencies. By July 1, 2019, each local school system must develop a plan in
consultation with local law enforcement to implement the guidelines and submit its plan to MCSS for review and comment.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, and each school year thereafter, each local school system must file a report with MCSS before the school year begins that demonstrates (1) that each public school has an SRO assigned to the school or (2) if no SRO is assigned to a public school, that adequate local law enforcement coverage will be provided to the school. MCSS must submit annual summaries of the SRO reports it receives to the Governor and General Assembly.

School Safety Subcabinet and Advisory Board

  • The School Safety Subcabinet consists of the following individuals or their designees:
  • the State Superintendent of Schools;
  • the Secretary of Health;
  • the Secretary of State Police;
  • the Attorney General;
  • the Secretary of the Department of Disabilities; and
  • the Executive Director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC).

The State Superintendent or designee chairs the subcabinet and the Executive Director of MCSS provides staff.

The subcabinet is charged with multiple responsibilities, chief among them (1) collaborating with various stakeholders to provide a comprehensive, coordinated approach to school safety; (2) initiating collaborative partnerships and facilitating coordination among stakeholders to leverage existing resources to deliver school safety services uniformly to local school systems; (3) distributing grants from the Safe Schools Fund; and (4) adopting regulations to carry out its responsibilities. The subcabinet must submit an annual report with specified information.

The subcabinet is also given responsibility for making grants for security-related expenses to schools and child care centers at risk of hate crimes under Chapter 732 of 2016; the bill authorizes the Governor to transfer $1.0 million from the Governor’s Office on Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) for this purpose.

The School Safety Subcabinet Advisory Board is established and includes a broad array of stakeholders to advise and assist the subcabinet in carrying out its duties. A member of the advisory board may not receive compensation but is entitled to reimbursement of expenses.

Safe Schools Fund 

The existing School Safety Enforcement Fund in GOCCP is reconstituted as the Safe Schools Fund within MSDE, and the subcabinet is designated as the entity responsible for making grants from the fund. The fund retains its dedicated revenue source, consisting of a portion of penalties paid by uninsured motorists, which is set in statute at $600,000 in each fiscal year. The fund also includes any other money appropriated to it by the State budget and accrued interest. The fund may be used only to provide grants to local school systems to enhance school safety, as specified by the bill.

The bill authorizes the Governor to transfer to the Safe Schools Fund by budget amendment (1) $10.0 million in funds reserved in the fiscal 2019 operating budget for school safety operating grants to local school systems and (2) $2.5 million reserved for grants to local school systems for the safety evaluations. Any of these monies not transferred to the Safe Schools Fund in fiscal 2019 revert to the general fund.

Grants awarded to local school systems are supplemental to any State funds that would otherwise be appropriated to the local school systems.

Model Policy for Assessment Teams

By September 1, 2018, the subcabinet must develop a model policy for the establishment of one or more assessment teams in each local school system. The model policy must include specified provisions generally related to (1) the identification of, and intervention with, students or other individuals who may pose a threat to school safety; (2) the composition and appropriate number of assessment teams within local school systems; and (3) training for the assessment teams.

By September 1, 2019, each local school system must adopt a policy for the establishment of assessment teams that is consistent with the model policy. Local policies must include:

  • a process for regular assessment and intervention, including diversion and de-escalation, if an individual exhibits behavior that may pose a threat to school safety;
  • standards for timely response and procedures for coordination among members of the team, including referral of relevant information to  appropriate authorities; and
  • standards and procedures for the referral of an individual for evaluation, services, or treatment when appropriate.

School Safety Evaluations and Emergency Plans

Each local school system must designate a school safety coordinator, who must be certified by MCSS and serve as the liaison between the local school system, local law enforcement, and MCSS. By June 15, 2019, and regularly thereafter, each local school system must conduct a safety evaluation of each school to (1) identify and, if necessary, develop solutions for physical safety concerns and (2) identify and evaluate any patterns of safety concerns on school property or at school-sponsored events. In conducting the safety evaluations, each safety coordinator must consult with MCSS, coordinate with IAC, and submit a summary of the completed evaluations to MCSS.

MSDE must update the Emergency Planning Guidelines for Local School Systems by December 1, 2019, to reflect the initial findings from local safety evaluations.

By July 1, 2020, and regularly thereafter, each local school system must update the school emergency plan for each public school. The plans must conform to the MSDE guidelines regarding how the school will address behavioral threats and emergency events. In updating the plans, local school systems must work with MCSS to correct any identified weaknesses.

School safety evaluations, emergency plans, and local law enforcement coverage policies are not subject to inspection under the Maryland Public Information Act, except by designated State agencies, emergency management agencies, and local law enforcement in the performance of their official duties.

Mental Health Services 

By September 1, 2018, each local school system must appoint a mental health services coordinator to coordinate existing mental health services and referral procedures within the local school system. Working with specified local entities, the coordinator must (1) ensure that a student who is referred for mental health services obtains the necessary services; (2) maximize external funding for mental health and wraparound services, as defined by the bill; and (3) develop plans for delivering behavioral health and wraparound services to students who exhibit specified behaviors of concern. Grants from the Safe Schools Fund may be used to develop plans for delivering mental health and wraparound services. 

The bill requires the subcabinet to review the local plans for delivering behavioral health and wraparound services (discussed above) and identify gaps in the availability of services and providers for school-age children in the State by December 1, 2018. It also requires the Kirwan Commission to include in its final report (due December 31, 2018) recommendations for additional mental health and wraparound services in local school systems and funding required for those services.

Safety Drills for Public Schools and Public Institutions of Higher Education

MSDE, in consultation with the subcabinet, may adopt regulations to incorporate age-appropriate components of the Active Shooter Preparedness Program developed by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or guidelines developed by the Maryland Active Assailant Work Group into the annual schedule of school safety drills. MSDE must notify the Governor and the Legislative Policy Committee of any changes to the schedule of drills in regulation. Local school systems must collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to establish policies for responding to an emergency at each public school.

Beginning with the 2018-19 academic year, and annually thereafter, each public institution of higher education must complete at least one active shooter drill.

Maryland Center for School Safety

MCSS is made an independent unit within MSDE; the bill authorizes the Governor to transfer by budget amendment funds appropriated and 14 positions authorized in the fiscal 2019 operating budget from the Department of State Police to MSDE to complete the transfer. MCSS is based at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center and must establish a satellite office at Bowie State University. The mandated appropriation for MCSS’s operations is increased from $500,000 to $2.0 million annually. The bill transfers some of the center’s existing duties to the subcabinet, and adds the following duties to MCSS’s charge (some of which are also described above):

  • assist local school systems to identify resources and implement training for students and parents about relationship violence, identifying the signs of unhealthy relationships, and preventing relationship violence;
  • analyze data on SROs and develop guidelines for local school systems regarding the assignment and training of SROs;
  • certify school safety coordinators;
  • consult with local school systems on safety evaluations;
  • review and comment on school emergency plans; and
  • report on life-threatening incidents that occur on public school grounds.

Each local school system must promptly inform MCSS of any critical, life-threatening incidents that occur on school grounds and invite the center to participate in a required after-action review of the incident. At the conclusion of the review, the local school system must file a report with MCSS, and the center must report to the Governor and General Assembly on lessons learned from the incident and any recommendations for improving school safety.

Questions? Please contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo for more information.