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Changes coming after some Baltimore schools failed to hold mandated number of safety drills last year

More than two dozen Baltimore city schools did not appear to have conducted the minimum state-mandated number of fire drills last academic year, according to a review of drill logs by The Baltimore Sun.

State code requires schools that are fully protected by an automatic sprinkler system to hold five fire drills each school year, while schools without such systems must run eight drills.

But records obtained by The Sun show that nearly 30 schools, about half of which serve elementary-age children, recorded less than five fire drills last year.

The school district recently rolled out an online system aimed at making it easier for principals to schedule and record drills and for the system’s operations officials to track them. This is the first year safety drills will be reported online instead of on paper forms handed over to the district office each November and April and then reviewed biannually.

City schools leaders will also conduct monthly check-ins to ensure principals are conducting timely safety drills as required.

“We have to own up to the fact that we need to be very forceful in reporting this information and making sure we work with the principals as much as possible in order to get them to be compliant,” said Keith Scroggins, the school district's chief operating officer.

Dozens of schools also did not appear to have held lockdown drills, bus evacuation drills, shelter-in-place drills, and other required safety drills last school year. These drills are held to practice and evaluate procedures in the event of an accident, violent incident or severe weather.

Scroggins said he believes that some schools did hold these drills last year but did not accurately record them. Nonetheless, he said, the district must do better.

“The world today — there is so much going on,” Scroggins said. “We need to make sure students and staff can be assured we’re following all safety regulations and requirements.”

The majority of school buildings in the city aren’t fully protected by automatic sprinkler systems, meaning the state calls on them to conduct a higher number of fire drills.

“We are trying our best to upgrade all of our buildings in terms of fire safety,” Scroggins said. “Some still have the antiquated system — they do work, but they’re antiquated. We’re working every year to get funds to upgrade all the systems in our schools.”

Recently there’s been “more competition” for those funds, he said. The state threatened in 2016 to withhold millions of dollars in school construction money until the city committed to installing air conditioning in all of its schools.

City school district administrators responded by announcing a plan to cool all school buildings within five years, though they warned that fire safety and other projects would have to be delayed in order to prioritize the air conditioning projects.

“As we accelerate projects for air conditioning, there’s less money that goes around for fire safety and other needs the school system has,” Scroggins said. “We’re trying to balance that as much as possible.”

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