Tips for School Administrators for Reinforcing School Safety
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Violence such as the high profile school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania can cause concern within school communities, even if they are not directly affected by the event(s). Adults and students struggle to understand why these events happen and, more importantly, how they can be prevented. School principals and superintendents can provide leadership in reassuring students, staff, and parents that schools are generally very safe places for children and youth and reiterating what safety measures and student supports are already in place in their school.
Suggested Steps to Reinforce School Safety
There are a number of steps that administrators can take to reinforce the fact that schools are safe environments and increase student/adult comfort level.
- Write a letter to parents explaining the school safety policies and crisis prevention efforts and cite statistics that less than one percent of violent deaths are “school associated.”
- Be a visible, welcoming presence at school, greeting students and parents and visiting classrooms
- Issue a press release about the school district efforts to maintain safe and caring schools through clear behavioral expectations, positive behavior interventions and supports, and crisis planning and preparedness.
- Conduct a formal review of all school safety policies and procedures to ensure that emerging school safety issues are adequately covered in current school crisis plans and emergency response procedures. (Such reviews should be conducted at least annually.)
- Review communication systems within the school district and with community responders. This should also address how and where parents will be informed in the event of an emergency.
- Connect with community partners (emergency responders, area hospitals, victim’s assistance, etc.) to review emergency response plans and to discuss any short-term needs that may be obvious in response to the current crisis.
- Provide crisis training and professional development for staff based upon needs assessment.
- Highlight violence prevention programs and curriculum currently being taught in school. Emphasize the efforts of the school to teach students alternatives to violence including peaceful conflict resolution and positive interpersonal relationship skills. Cite specific examples such as Second Step Violence Prevention, bully proofing, or other positive interventions and behavioral supports.
School Violence Prevention Measures to Highlight
All schools work to prevent school violence and schools are very safe places. This can be a good time to remind students, staff, and parents of their important role in promoting school safety by following procedures and reporting unusual or concerning individuals or behavior. It also may be helpful to address the important balance between sufficient building security and providing students a healthy, nurturing, normal school environment. Administrators can reinforce the importance to school safety of creating a caring school community in which adults and students respect and trust each other and all students feel connected, understand expectations, and receive the behavioral and mental health support they need.
Below is a list of possible school prevention activities that principals may want to reference in letters home or statements to community members about school safety.
- Limited access to school building (designated entrance with all other access points locked from the exterior).
- Monitoring of the school parking lot (parking lot monitors who oversee, people entering and leaving the campus).
- Monitoring and supervision of student common areas such as hallways, cafeterias, and playgrounds.
- School-community partnerships to enhance safety measures for students beyond school property (Block Parents, police surveillance, Community Watch programs).
- Presence of school resource officers, local police partnerships, or security guards.
- Monitoring of school guests (report to main office, sign in, wear badges, report unfamiliar people to school office).
- Crisis plans and preparedness training (building level teams; regular review of plans and simulation drills; training teachers and other staff in how to respond to students’ questions, crisis awareness).
- Creating a safe, supportive school climate that provides school-wide behavioral expectations, caring school climate programs, positive interventions and supports, psychological and counseling services, and violence prevention programs (bully-proofing, social skill development, conflict mediation).
- Encourage students to take responsibility for their part in maintaining safe school environments, including student participation in safety planning. They, better than adults, know the hidden or less trafficked areas of the school that are more likely to be dangerous.
- Promote compliance with school rules, reporting potential problems to school officials, and resisting peer pressure to act irresponsibly.
- Anonymous reporting systems (student hot lines, “suggestion” boxes, “tell an adult” campaigns).
- Threat assessment and risk-assessment procedures and teams for conducting the assessments.
- School preparedness drills (intruder alerts, weather and fire).
- Citing school safety incident data. Recent trends have found that school violence nationwide is declining. Many school districts have local data that support this trend. When possible, citing local data helps families and students feel more at ease.
- Presence of security systems (metal detectors, video monitoring, exit door alarm systems)