By Jennifer Horton

This article is based on research conducted by CSG analysts in response to several inquiries from state leaders. Have a question of your own? Email [email protected]

Many states are assessing their approaches to school safety and exploring opportunities to take action through policy. While the federal government has published guidelines and resources outlining best practices to support schools in creating safe learning environments, much of the work of improving school safety falls to state and local governments and school districts. A scan of state policy initiatives conducted by The Council of State Governments reveals that states have taken a range of approaches to the issue.

Some states — like New York, which passed a comprehensive 10-bill legislative package in June to strengthen gun laws — are addressing the issue by focusing on general gun safety measures. In a violence prevention plan, a coalition of school safety researchers and experts recommend several research-informed actions state leaders can take to prevent fatal mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. The plan’s points include:

  • Comprehensive background checks
  • Licenses to purchase handguns
  • Bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips
  • Extreme risk protection laws
  • Improved gun storage at home

An analysis of targeted school violence conducted by the Secret Service found that 76% of the attackers who used firearms acquired the weapon from the home of a parent or other close relative. In half of the firearms cases, attackers used guns that were either easily accessible or not securely stored. In 16% of cases, the firearms were kept more securely, but the attacker was still able to gain access to them.

Other states have focused on school-specific strategies, enacting laws that require school districts to develop and implement school safety plans centered on prevention and response. California, Texas and Washington all require safety plans, with mixed levels of enforcement and accountability. Prevention often takes the form of “school hardening”, which attempts to fortify schools against gun violence through security measures such as implementing metal detectors, controlled access protocols, reinforced steel doors and better locks and hiring school resource officers.

In addition to hardening measures, some states are looking at ways to “soften” schools by supporting the social and emotional needs of students, building empathy and strengthening their conflict resolution and stress management skills. The Secret Service report found that most attackers experienced social stressors involving relationships, were victims of bullying and endured negative home life factors. Many states are using American Rescue Plan Act funding to address student mental health. For example, the Choose Love for Schools initiative promotes a research-informed social and emotional learning curriculum designed to create a safer and more connected school culture. It has been downloaded by more than 10,000 schools in all 50 states.

States have also worked to strengthen responses to an active shooter situation in efforts to minimize harm. Iowa and Washington require school districts to coordinate with local law enforcement to develop school safety plans. Allen, Edmonton, Grayson, Mercer, Warren and Scott counties in Kentucky installed fast paths to assist law enforcement in navigating school buildings quickly. New Jersey’s Department of Education implemented a similar system

Specific examples of state legislation addressing school safety can be found in the tables below.

Summary of Legislation and Code Concerning School Hardening 

State Bill Status Summary 
Florida Statute 1001.212 2020  Enacted Establishes a school security risk assessment tool, a School Safety Specialist Training Program and a School Hardening and Harm Mitigation Workgroup; awards grants to improve the safety and security of school buildings. 
Kentucky House Bill 63 4/08/22  Enacted Requires a school resource officer be assigned to each school. 
Michigan Senate Bill 990 3/21/2019  Enacted Prohibits schools from building a new school facility or conducting major renovations without consulting with the law enforcement agency that is the first responder for that building.  
Michigan  House Bill 5701 3/23/2022  Enacted Allows schools to install temporary door locking systems with fewer regulations and restrictions. 
Texas Senate Bill 11 6/06/2019  Enacted Requires open-enrollment charter schools to be subject to Sec. 37.108 which requires school districts to adopt and implement a multi-hazard emergency operations plan; adds preventionas part of multi-hazard plans; requires district employees to have access to telephones to ensure communication during an emergency; allows districts to “harden” schools from external threats.  

Summary of Legislation and Code Concerning Active Shooter Response in Schools 

State   Bill  Status Summary  
California  Assembly Bill 1747  9/27/2018  EnactedInstructs all K-12 public schools to develop a comprehensive school safety plan and train all school staff in the plan; plans must include procedures related to individuals with guns on school campuses and at school-related functions; school districts are to coordinate emergency response drills with local first responder agencies.  
Florida  Senate Bill 7026  3/9/2018  EnactedRequires each district school board to formulate and prescribe policies and procedures in consultation with the appropriate public safety agencies for emergency drills for hostage and active shooter situations.
Illinois  House Bill 2400     8/16/2021  EnactedProvides that a law enforcement lockdown drill must:  not include simulations that mimic an actual school shooting incident or active shooter event,be announced in advance to all school personnel and students,include content that is age and developmentally appropriate,  include and involve school personnel, including school-based mental health professionals, and  include trauma-informed approaches to address the concerns and well-being of students and school personnel.   Requires a school district to include an examination of the efficacy and effects of law enforcement drills in its annual review of each school building’s emergency and crisis response plans, protocols and procedures.  
Iowa  Senate File 2364   4/11/2018   EnactedRequires the board of directors of all school districts and the authorities in charge of each accredited non-public school to develop high quality emergency operations plans for school buildings, to include potential threats from active shooters; requires at least one emergency operations drill be conducted each year in the school building, with the specifics of who participates and what the drill includes left to the authorities.   
Kentucky  KRS 156.095 (7)  2/21/2020  Enacted Requires a minimum of one hour of training on how to respond to an active shooter situation for all school district employees with job duties requiring direct contact with students; requires active shooter training only for staff (students do not participate — students prepare for active shooter emergencies through lockdown drills). 
Montana  Code Annotated 20-1-401 and 20-1-402     2021 Enacted Requires boards of trustees to adopt a school safety plan that addresses issues of school safety relating to school buildings and facilities, communications systems and school grounds with input from the local community; requires at least eight disaster drills a year in a school, held at different hours of the day or evening to avoid distinction between drills and actual disasters.  
South Carolina  SC Code Ann. 59-63-910  7/2/2018  Enacted Requires that all public schools conduct active shooter/intruder drills annually at least twice a year; instructs the State Department of Education and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to develop guidelines for the conduct of active shooter/intruder training and developmentally appropriate training materials; requires consultation with school-employed mental health professionals and the State Fire Marshal in creating and updating the guidelines.  
Texas Senate Bill 11 6/06/2019 Enacted See table above. 
Texas  Senate Bill 168     6/14/2021 Enacted Instructs the commissioner, the Texas School Safety Center and the state fire marshal to adopt rules providing best practices for conducting emergency school drills and exercises, including lockdown drills, and designating the number of drills to be conducted each semester; requires school districts to ensure adequate notice and information about active threat exercises is given to affected parties; requires that content of the exercise is age and developmentally appropriate, has been developed by a team of school administrators, teachers, mental health professionals and law enforcement officers with input from staff and students, and is designed to support the well-being of students who participate.  
Washington   House Bill 1941      6/9/2022 Enacted Requires each school district to adopt and implement a safe school plan that meets a list of criteria, taking into account guidance and resources provided by state and regional school safety centers; requires schools to conduct at least one safety-related drill per month, including lockdown drills. Lockdown drills may not include live simulations of or reenactments of active shooter scenarios that are not trauma-informed and age and developmentally appropriate). 

State leaders can learn more about approaches to school safety by visiting the following resources:

Please note The Council of State Governments is a nonpartisan organization and therefore takes no position on state legislation or laws mentioned in linked material, nor does CSG endorse any third-party publications; resources are cited for information purposes only. CSG provides unbiased research that is based on evidence-informed and objective analysis.

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