Laws for School Safety: Frequently Asked Questions

School safety sign school lockers.

School safety is an important and complex issue that deserves attention. Most people only think of school safety in terms of significant issues like gun violence and criminality, but school safety encompasses a wide range of issues from bullying to emergency management.

In every school, public or private, the safety of students and faculty has always been a major concern. As cases of bullying, trespassing, and violence have increased dramatically in recent years, the concern has grown tremendously.

School Safety: Frequently Asked Questions: 

Keeping up with all of the laws, guidelines, and procedures pertaining to school safety is difficult. Concerned educators, parents, students, and the general public all have a lot of questions about school safety rules. Here are some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to school safety laws:

  • Are security cameras allowed in schools? 
  • Are teachers allowed to carry guns in schools? 
  • Which states authorize the use of school bus cameras to catch hazardous drivers?
  • Are schools required to have metal detectors? 
  • What is the role of a school police officer?


In this article, we’ll provide practical answers to these questions and present an overview of the laws that govern school safety.

Are security cameras allowed in schools? 

Legally, yes. Cameras are permitted in areas such as corridors, break rooms, the main office, the attendance office, the parking lot, the gym, and even classrooms. Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Classroom security cameras.

Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate. Schools that do not have a designated law enforcement unit might consider designating an employee to serve as the “law enforcement unit” in order to maintain the security camera and determine the appropriate circumstances in which the school would disclose recorded images.

Security cameras become even more ubiquitous in schools, savvy administrators need to be aware of not only the rapidly evolving technology but also the evolving legal landscape.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of public schools—and more than 94 percent of high schools—in the U.S. used security cameras to monitor students. 

Regarding the use of CCTV in schools, the overriding federal law that governs this domain is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

While video cameras have become a staple of school safety and security measures, they also present legal concerns that can put administrators in a bind. Technological advancements have made surveillance cameras an even more crucial aspect of school security, school administrators should consider the following procedures to stay on top of the ever-changing legal landscape:

  • Developing and publishing policies describing the purpose of surveillance cameras and the parameters for use;
  • Installing cameras only in areas where individuals have a low expectation of privacy;
  • Notifying the school community of the use of surveillance cameras via policies, handbooks, websites, newsletters, and conspicuous signage.

Are teachers allowed to carry guns in schools? 

Unlike the clear guidance on security cameras, the issue of teachers carrying guns in schools is complicated. As of January 1, 2020, 28 states allow schools to arm teachers or staff in at least some cases or as part of a specific program..

There are two federal laws restrict who may carry guns in or around schools offering kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) education:

  1. the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (18 U.S.C. 922) and
  2. the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 (20 U.S.C. 7961).
School lockers gun teachers students.

These laws do not prohibit all people from carrying guns in schools, however. Law enforcement officers and individuals with valid state-issued concealed-carry permits are exempted from the laws’ prohibitions.

Furthermore, gun owners can legally keep their firearms in a locked container or a locked firearm rack in a car on school grounds, and schools can allow individuals to carry firearms on campus for use in an approved program or in accordance with a contract entered into between a school and the individual.

Laws in 26 states leave approval and training requirements up to local school districts or allow teachers with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms in schools.

Which states authorize the use of school bus cameras to catch hazardous drivers?

Currently, buses in Idaho, Indiana, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Utah have security cameras. In some cases, the funds generated from the fines are distributed, in some percentage, to the local school district.

Yellow school bus stop sign.

Laws in 13 states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming and West Virginia— authorize the use of school bus cameras to catch motorists who illegally pass a school bus.

A typical school bus camera system consists of 2 to 8 dome or wedge specialized mobile cameras, a mobile digital video recorder, wiring harnesses, and video playback and archiving software.

Security cameras on school buses handle a variety of safety challenges, from student behavioral issues to vehicle safety. The security cameras provide parents peace of mind while their children walk to school, but there are still many safety concerns after they arrive.

Are schools required to have metal detectors? 

Legally, searching students with metal detectors falls under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens, including students, against unreasonable searches. The law, however, does have exceptions that allow schools to conduct searches.

There is an ever-growing amount of security tools available in the industry. The Federal Commission on School Safety has made several recommendations, including the use of metal detectors.

School metal detector line.

Under at least two separate legal theories, schools may use metal detectors to deter the presence of weapons consistent with requirements under the Fourth Amendment:

  1. metal detector searches may be justified under the standard of “reasonableness, under all the circumstances,” as dictated by New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) 469 U.S. 325, and
  2. related cases, which take into account the special circumstances of student searches conducted by school officials.

Some of the more recent United States Governmental statistics indicate that about 2% of elementary schools in the U.S. use metal detectors, 7% of middle schools, and 10% of high schools. This is a fairly low number, with literally only 1-in-10 high schools utilizing metal detectors within the country.

The bottom line is that there aren’t many federal laws that govern security in schools. So it’s upchool districts to make the decision.

What is the role of a school police officer?

School Resource Officer SROs are sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools. A local police department, sheriff’s agency, or school system typically employs SROs who work closely with school administrators in an effort to create a safer environment.

Since SROs are responsible for a variety of activities outside the scope of day-to-day law enforcement officials, the common practice is to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school district and local law enforcement agency.

The National Association of School Resource Officers provides a helpful guideline and questions that should be reflected in an MOU to ensure the safety of students and to guard against legal action that could be taken against the law enforcement agency and/or the school.

School safety laws since Columbine

School safety is defined as schools and school-related activities where students are safe from violence, bullying, harassment, and substance use.

Since the horrific Columbine shooting in 1999, lawmakers have implemented new laws and restrictions with the aim of preventing future tragedies. Twenty years after Columbine, state policymakers continue to refine policies in an attempt to improve school safety and security. 

School board law justice scale.

During the 2018 school year, 80 percent of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes. States have responded by enacting legislation to address difficult issues such as weapons, security cameras, law enforcement support, and much more.

What is the Federal Commission on School Safety?

On March 12, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety was established to review safety practices and make meaningful and actionable recommendations of best practices to keep students safe.

The efforts of the Federal Commission on school safety have been guided by the need to promote state and local solutions to school violence. To that end, the Commission conducted field visits, listening sessions,and meetings with hundreds of Americans all across the country.

School Safety is a national priority.


The Federal Commission on School Safety outlined best practices on a wide variety of school safety topics including:

  • Mental health– Integrating mental health, substance misuse, and other supportive services into schools.
  • Active shooter response-Training to improve the safety and resiliency of law enforcement officers, other first responders, and communities.
  • Building hardening -This includes security measures that help control access to the school and its campus.

The report is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the laws governing school safety. It breaks down the wide range of state laws that require districts to develop or upgrade school safety and security plans. The report is wide-ranging and covers important safety topics from the role of school resource officers, safety audits and use of security cameras.

Conclusion

It’s challenging to keep up with all of the school safety rules, rules, and procedures. Educators, parents, students, and the general public all have concerns about school safety rules.

In this article, we provided practical answers to frequently asked school safety questions such as:

  1. Are security cameras allowed in schools? Legally, yes. Cameras are permitted in areas such as corridors, break rooms, the main office, the attendance office, the parking lot, the gym, and even classrooms.
  2. Are teachers allowed to carry guns in schools? Teachers or other school staff in districts in 31 states can legally carry weapons in schools, however, the laws and guidelines vary from state to state.
  3. Which states authorize the use of school bus cameras to catch hazardous drivers? Laws in 13 states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming and West Virginia— authorize the use of school bus cameras to catch motorists who illegally pass a school bus.
  4. Are schools required to have metal detectors? There aren’t many federal laws that govern security in schools. So it’s up to the school districts to make the decision.
  5. What is the role of a school police officer? School Resource Officer SROs are sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools. The common practice is to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school district and local law enforcement agency.

The bottom line is that safe schools promote the protection of students from violence, threats, theft, bullying and criminality in general. Every educator, parent, and student has the right to expect a safe and secure school environment because school safety is linked to improved student and school outcomes.

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