In recent posts, we’ve been focusing on revisions made to the Clery Act by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA), and discussing the impact of such revisions on this year’s reporting process. As we near the October 1 publication deadline, we thought we would take a moment to discuss the notice and distribution requirements relating to the Annual Security Report (ASR) and Annual Fire Safety Report (AFSR), and to suggest some best practices for ensuring that these requirements are satisfied year-over-year, as efficiently as possible. To this end, we offer the following five recommendations:
- Post your report online. Take advantage of the option afforded in the law to post your consolidated report to your institution’s website. Create a webpage devoted to housing your most recent report, and assign it a dedicated URL that will not change over time (e.g., www.ourschool.edu/securityreport). Once your consolidated report is posted to your website, you can satisfy the notice and distribution requirements in the law by simply providing notice to students and employees of the report’s availability online (i.e., you do not have to distribute a copy of the entire report). Also, if your institution includes more than one campus, and each files its own report, your dedicated webpage can house the most recent report for every campus. Perhaps most importantly, posting your report online will make it easily and instantly accessible to the broadest audience, which is most consistent with the spirit and intent of the Clery Act.
- Create a “universal” notice. Design a universal or “neutral” notice that can be used with students and employees, year after year, at every campus in your system. Such a notice would exclude any reference to a particular year, campus, or institutional brand (e.g., School of Business, School of Law), thus enabling it to be used across multiple platforms. This approach works best if you house the reports for every campus and every brand on a single website, as recommended above in point one. Developing a universal notice reduces the likelihood that an outdated or inaccurate version of the notice will be distributed. It also eases administrative burdens, as new versions of the notice do not have to be created each year, and changes or updates, if required, need only be made to a single document.
- Double-check the contents of your notice. Ensure that your notice includes the following four elements required under the law: (1) a statement of the report's availability, (2) the exact electronic address at which the report is posted, (3) a brief description of the report's contents, and (4) a statement that the institution will provide a paper copy of the report upon request. And remember, if you are issuing a consolidated report (i.e., it includes both your ASR and your AFSR), your notice must discuss briefly the contents of both the ASR and AFSR.
- Systematize distribution of your notice. Distribute the notice to all prospective employees and students, and annually to all current employees and students. We recommend that distribution of the notice be included as a checklist item on any internal human resources orientation or new employee checklist, as well as on any student admission or academic file checklist. And of course, be sure to keep a record of the annual distribution. Should you ever be subject to a U.S. Department of Education program review or Clery Act audit, the record of distribution will be the primary means by which you establish compliance with the notice requirements in the law.
- Combine your security report and fire safety report. Finally, if you maintain on-campus student housing, and as such are required to prepare and publish both an ASR and an AFSR, prepare and publish the reports together. Combining the reports into a single document simplifies the administrative process and makes it easier for students and employees alike to locate important information. Just keep in mind that the title of the consolidated report must clearly state that the report contains both the ASR and the AFSR.
We’ve attached here for your review a Model Universal ASR AFSR Notice that incorporates the points set out above. Please keep in mind that this is a sample disclosure only, and would need to be carefully reviewed and customized to ensure that it adequately serves the specific purposes of your institution, should you determine to use it as the basis for your own disclosure.
Aaron Lacey is a partner in Thompson Coburn’s Higher Education practice, and editorial director of REGucation. You can find Aaron on Twitter (@HigherEdCounsel) and LinkedIn, and reach him at (314) 552-6405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.