Schools across the nation have spent the summer preparing for a safe school year. Among those preparations, many schools are examining and introducing new protocols such as those designed to protect students and staff in an active assailant (intruder or attacker) scenario.
Recently, a mother reached out for perspective following the introduction of active assailant training at her daughter’s middle school. This mother (we’ll call her Susie) is well-educated, informed on community and school issues, and lives in an excellent school district. She received an email from her child’s school about the new program and learned that school staff had already been trained and were prepared to introduce the program to students the next week. Although surprised at the quick turnaround, Susie recognized the threat of an active assailant at school as a rare one, but like most parents, she could not help but be concerned about the possibility.
When Susie’s daughter came home from school after the training, Susie asked her how it went. “Well, basically Mom, it’s every man for himself,” replied the young girl.
Determined to remain calm and objective, Susie took a deep breath and gently pressed for more information. “How did my daughter walk away with that idea?” she wondered. Susie knew one thing for sure: this was not what the school staff had intended.
We encouraged Susie to share this experience with the school to help staff better develop and deliver safety protocols, instruction, and training.
Throughout the process, Susie shared some key takeaways with us:
- Parent Education and Preparation: Susie first learned, via email, about the upcoming training only one week before introduction. Parent meetings, forums for discussion, and plenty of notice allow for questions, alleviate fears, and build community around new programs.
- Parent Support: The school’s initial email provided parents with some conversation starters to facilitate discussion at home. Susie found this helpful in preparing her daughter ahead of the training. Though afterward, Susie didn’t receive any follow up about how it went or how she could support this new learning at home. Follow-up conversation guides can help parents support student preparedness and monitor their child’s adjustment to new protocols.
- Opportunities for Discussion and Feedback: Susie’s daughter said the training made her feel better about getting to safety in an emergency; but, her daughter had lots of questions following the training. Inviting student (and parent) questions and observations following instruction and/or training is essential to any school-based programming.
- Student Support: Susie learned that teachers introduced the new program along with the school guidance counselor. This let Susie know that the school was attending to the social-emotional needs of students through the process. Guidance and monitoring from school-based mental health providers (i.e. guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers) can help identify specific student and staff needs for such instruction and training.
We encourage schools to learn from experiences like these, keep parents and students actively involved, and continually examine programs and practices in order to move forward together for safer schools.
Check out these related resources for educators and parents:
The Lockdown Drill, Who Let the Dog In? and Police In Our School, children’s books by Deputy Becky Coyle
Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools