School Safety Matters

03/17/2016  |  By Dennis Lewis and Judy Brunner
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4th Down and a Few Months to Go

In the first in a series of articles in collaboration with SEEN Magazine, we want to welcome readers to the online column, School Safety Matters.  We believe there are a number of school safety strategies that require little monetary commitment and, when implemented, can pay big dividends.  We refer to these strategies as “Best Practices”, and you will find this philosphy is the perspective from which many our articles originate. Our ideas and tips presented over the next year and beyond will hopefully help you create a safer learning environment for students, staff and those patrons traversing your campuses on a daily basis.   You should always feel free to contact us with questions and needs by using the information provided at the end of each article. 

Yes, it is still winter and fourth quarter hasn’t even arrived, but it is exactly the right time to begin thinking about safety and security issues impacting the closing out of the school year.   Regardless of the number of school days in your year, each and every one should be treated with the same level of planning for maintaining student and staff safety.  And this means the last day of the school year is as important as the first day.

So what should be the options in your  “play book” as you huddle up and strategize how best to drive into the end zone of the school year and avoid a costly fumble.

1.    Identify students who might have planned to graduate but will not do so because of academic issues or end of school year discipline violations.  Sometimes violent behavior is motiviated by feeling one has been unjustly wronged.  Not being allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies could be a triggering event for violent or escalating aggressive behavior, especially if the realization by the student is fairly sudden.  Principals, counselors, and even parents should maintain dialogue with the student and monitor his/her mental state.  Just because a student isn’t going to graduate doesn’t mean he or she will not be in attendance.  Photographs of these students should be provided to security and other supervisory staff at graduation ceremonies who may not recognize them by sight.   If observed at the event, staff should alert other personnel to the student’s presence and monitor their demeanor and behavior and be prepared to act quickly.   One of the ways to do so is to approach and engage the student in a conversation to gauge their purpose and intent for coming to the event.

2.    Review all access control measures with staff and students as appropriate.  Access control is even more frustrating during the last several weeks of school, and vigilance by all must be maintained. A number of special, end of the school year activities will create additional visitors to the campus as well as greater student movement to and from the site.   Plan for how the influx of parents and others attending end of the year activities will be handled.   Students are the first line of defense in access control and a reminder of the requirement that entries other than those designated for the public are to remain secured at all times should be restated.  Students must understand the importance of not allowing adults into the school unless directed to do so by a staff member.

3.    Plan carefully for field trips, school picnics, and/or senior excursions.  During this time of year, many “one time only” student activities are scheduled.  Make certain that when taking students out of their familiar environments there are sufficient chaperones. Students should understand the parameters for exploration, and parents should have signed and given written permission for participation.   As you approach the end of the year, require teachers to re-teach students the rules and expectations including all emergency procedures.

4.    Review the level of security and supervision needed at end of year functions such as proms, graduation ceremonies, etc. Clearly setting and communicating expectations to both students and staff is important.  Provide local law enforcement agencies with a listing of these activities and events especiallywhen large crowds are expected.   Staff and others providing security and supervision should be easily identifieable, have the ability to rapidly communicate, and be quickly accessible.

5.    Establish or review the existing security plan for the school and grounds during the evening and overnight hours for the last few weeks of school.   Many schools experience an increase in vandalism at the end of the school year.   In lieu of hiring outside services or to supplement such, consider adjusting custodial work shifts to create an overnight presence on the campus.  Ensure lighting and all other security measures are functioning as designed.  At the minimum, always communicate to local law enforcement the desire to have the campus more frequently patrolled as the school year comes to a close.  

6.    Plan for accounting for all building and room keys at the end of the school year and how to collect from the staff and faculty who will not be returning.  This should also include district identification badges, parking permits and other items issued to employees planning not to return. If the school utilizes an intrusion alarm system, make sure that access privileges have been removed for non-returning staff.

7.    Movable electronic equipment in rooms not in use during the summer months should be placed in an area of high security for the summer months.  High dollar items should not be left near windows and exterior doors for extended times when school is not in session.  For schools having intrusion alarm systems, the equipment should be placed where alarm coverage is available and practical.  An inventory of major equipment should be completed at the beginning and end of the summer months.  As part of the “checkout procedure” the individual classroom teacher should complete an end of school year inventory specific to his classroom.

Preplanning for safety and security is critical in minimizing the chances that an unpleasant or tragic event will occur at the close to the school year.  While every day of a school year has the potential to generate a number of safety and security issues, the end of a school year creates unique circumstances, which must be considered as part of the cycle of planning and preparation for student and staff safety.  Planning can’t start to early, only too late.

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