Most Public Schools Feel Prepared For A Pandemic

The majority of public schools have a written plan in place for a pandemic disease, as well as active shooter situations, natural disasters, and suicide threats or incidents.

Eighty-two percent of public schools indicated they had a written plan in place to handle a pandemic disease scenario, according to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Additionally, public schools commonly reported having a written plan in place for active shooter situations (96 percent), natural disasters (94 percent), and suicide threats or incidents (92 percent).

“Planning for possible future national health crises has never been more important, as schools across the country have returned for in-person learning following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “During the 2017-18 school year, 46 percent of public schools had written plans for handling pandemics, so the increase to 82 percent as of November is notable. Also notable was that 93 percent of schools reported feeling ‘somewhat’ or ‘very prepared’ to handle pandemic disease situations.”

public schools
(Photo Adobe Stock by Vitalii Vodolazskyi)

These findings are from the School Pulse Panel, which is part of NCES’s innovative approach to delivering timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on public K–12 schools in the U.S. Data was collected from 1,017 participating public schools between November 8 and November 22, 2022.

Key Findings

Pandemic Disease Preparation

  • Eighty-two percent of public schools indicated they had a written plan in place to deal with a pandemic disease scenario, a higher percentage than the 46 percent of public schools that indicated they had such plans during the 2017-18 school year on the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), another NCES sample survey.
  • Ninety-three percent of public schools reported feeling “somewhat” or “very prepared” to handle pandemic disease.

School Safety: Policies, Practices, and Procedures

  • During the 2022-23 school year, public schools have a variety of written plans in place that detail procedures to follow for emergency scenarios. These include active shooter situations (96 percent), natural disasters (94 percent), and suicide threats or incidents (92 percent).
  • During the 2022-23 school year, more than 90 percent of public schools have or plan to drill their students on the following emergency procedures: evacuation (96 percent), lockdown (95 percent), and shelter-in-place (93 percent).
  • Thirty percent of public schools report drilling evacuations nine or more times during the school year, 40 percent of public schools report drilling lockdowns twice per school year, and 41 percent report drilling shelter-in-place twice per school year school year.
  • Most public schools reported that they felt “somewhat” or “very prepared” to deal with shooting threats (92 percent), intruder situations (92 percent), bomb threats or incidents (87 percent), and active shooter situations (85 percent).

Security Personnel

  • Fifty percent of public schools have one or more full- or part-time school resource officers (SRO) at their school at least once a week during the 2022-23 school year. An SRO is a sworn law enforcement officer (SLEO) with arrest authority, who has specialized training and is assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations.
  • Twelve percent of public schools have one or more full- or part-time sworn law enforcement officers (SLEO; not an SRO) at their school at least once a week during the 2022-23 school year. A SLEO is an individual who ordinarily carries a firearm and a badge, has full arrest powers, and is paid from governmental funds.
  • Twenty-five percent of public schools have one or more full- or part-time security officers at their school at least once a week during the 2022-23 school year. A security officer is an individual who works to maintain safety and security at school, but is not a SLEO and does not have the same authority as SLEOs (e.g., cannot make arrests).
  • SLEOs and SROs perform a variety of functions at public schools. Among public schools that have either a SLEO or SRO at their school, frequently reported activities these security personnel participate in include: security enforcement and patrol (89 percent), identifying problems in the school and proactively seeking solutions to solve those problems (80 percent), and emergency management, such as developing and implementing comprehensive safety plans and strategies (79 percent).
  • Ninety-two percent of public schools that have either a SLEO or SRO at their school indicated that these security personnel routinely carry a firearm. Ninety percent of these schools indicated that these security personnel routinely carry physical restraints (e.g., handcuffs, tasers). Sixty-five percent reported that these security personnel carry chemical aerosol sprays (e.g., mace) and 52 percent wear a body camera, a higher percentage than the 33 percent of schools that reported so in 2017-18.

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  • Three percent of all public schools reported that they have a staff member who legally carries a firearm on school property and is not a SLEO, SRO, or security officer.

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