Last month, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) unveiled new legislation aimed at protecting students from harm on college and university campuses. The Michael Pohle Jr. Campus Emergency Alert Act, named after a victim of the Virginia Tech massacre, would enact steeper penalties for schools failing to meet requirements set forth by the Clery Act.
Under the Clery Act, schools are currently required to (1) publish and distribute an Annual Campus Security report, (2) keep a running crime log, and (3) provide “timely warnings” of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees (and publish their policies relating to these warnings in their report).
The new penalty would be a deduction of a minimum of 2% and a maximum of 10% of the amount a given school receives from the Department of Education. The current penalty is $27,500.00 per violation, and the percentage system proposed by the new act could see that penalty amount increase significantly.
The proposed legislation would also direct the treasury to establish a new special account where these penalties would be collected. The money in this account would be specifically disbursed for activities promoting campus safety.
If passed, the act would force US institutions of higher education to think even more seriously about how they provide “timely notification” to their students in the event of a campus emergency. By tying penalties to a school’s funding package, the government would ensure that sound security and emergency notification policies would be upheld at schools around the country.
But whether or not this legislation passes, all education institutions should take the time to evaluate whether they have a modern and effective communications system in place. And for those organizations that haven’t recently benchmarked their service against the rapidly evolving ENS marketplace, this is definitely the right time to do so. Not just to manage liability, but to make sure they are putting student safety first.