When parents ask the right questions, schools get safer. Today’s parents are no longer satisfied with being told that “everything is being done” to keep their children safe at school. They want to know exactly what their school is doing.
These are the top five school safety questions every parent should ask — and every school should be able to answer:
1. When was the last safety and security assessment conducted? Who conducted it? What were the findings? What enhancements were recommended? What actions were taken? When is the next assessment scheduled?
School safety requirements are mandated at the state level, but local school boards still have a lot of discretion in how those directives get implemented. Virginia, for example, requires schools to have a security audit conducted every year, but not all states adhere to these same standards. Furthermore, not all states place the same emphasis on the safety of their students. Some schools choose to have their audits focus on property-related concerns like computer theft and vandalism rather than student safety.
2. Who is the administrator responsible for handling the school’s threat assessment and management program?
The Secret Service urges every school in the United States to establish “Threat Management Teams” to assess threats. They have published an operational guide to help. It offers guidance on spotting suspicious behavior and figuring out when and how to intervene. In almost every incident of school violence, warning signs were present. but too often, concerns “slip through the cracks” because too few people had too few pieces of important information.
Ask about the methodology for how concerns are assessed and managed? Is there a central processor of all concerns? Are reports written on paper and filed away or are they recorded electronically for follow-up later? Can concerns be reported anonymously? Can parents report concerns? What is the social media and bullying policy? Ask how you can help.
3. What is the school’s access control policy for visitors and student re-admittance once classes are in session? How is this policy enforced?
In most cases, schools have a very well-written policy for granting entry into the school once classes are in session. In reality, those who are responsible for putting that policy into practice are often inundated with other responsibilities. The result is buzzer pressed = access granted. This means, for example, the “gate-keepers” may confirm the legitimacy of a visiting parent, but may miss the ill-intended intruder “tailgating” behind them. One of the biggest risks facing many schools is the wide divide between policy and practice — between what they say is being done and the reality of what is accepted as the everyday practice.
4. What are the determining factors for when to evacuate and when to shelter-in-place? Who is the decision maker?
The difference between when to evacuate and when to shelter in place is pretty cut and dry. As general rule, if the threat is external to the school (high winds, falling trees, severe storms) you stay inside and shelter-in-place where it is safe. Conversely, if the threat is internal to the school, (fire, gas leak, active shooter) the best practice is to evacuate in order to put as much time and distance from the threat as possible.
5. What nearby safe-havens are in close proximity (running distance) to the school where your child could go in the event of an emergency evacuation? What is the school’s “family reunification” plan?
“Safe Havens” are places which offer safety, support, and protection. Restaurants are great. They have food, water, bathrooms, and landlines for making phone calls. When in doubt: Run to a restaurant. (Hint: Restaurants are great for family reunification too.)
Most schools are designed as a series of interconnected and compartmentalized areas that offer their own pockets of protection in the form of dispersion and separation. Evacuation locations negate this protection by having everyone move from their respectively disjointed areas to a single, pre-designated position. If someone really wanted to do the most harm, the evacuation point would offer the greatest “likelihood of success” because most evacuation points are outside of the secure perimeter and are easily researched on social media.
The physical and emotional safety a student feels at school directly impacts academic performance. Students deserve a safe environment in which to live, learn and grow. When everyone participates in the protection plan, schools get safer — and that’s a small price to pay for the liberties, and the freedoms, which flow so freely from peace.