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While I spend a fair amount of time traveling to visit schools, communities, and school safety professionals, my travel increases tremendously in the wake of a school tragedy. In those moments, when I listen to the conversations around me, I hear such strong views, opinions, and ideas about school safety– all coming from the deepest places of concern, fear, anger, and disbelief.

In the aftermath of tragedy, with every breaking news detail, we are unified in our desire to keep our kids and communities safe. But, as mouths move and emotions rise, I find myself internally wondering, What were your thoughts on school safety the day before the disaster? Were you this concerned with school safety the day before the tragedy? Were you talking about it at the office? Did you post on social media about it? Was the topic even on your radar?

For many–if not most of us–it likely wasn’t. While I wonder, I do not judge. It wasn’t high on my radar on December 13, 2014, the day before an attacker walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and into my daughter’s first-grade classroom. It wasn’t until a tragedy touched my life that the issue of school safety took a permanent position in the forefront of my mind and sparked the mission that is now at the core of Safe and Sound Schools.

With the new school year upon us, the back-to-school commercials airing once more, and school emails filling our inboxes, I wonder about the year ahead. Many of you are wondering about it as well, perhaps even considering a more proactive role in the safety of your child’s schools. With this hope in mind, I share the top 10 questions I hope you will ask yourself, your children, your neighbors and your school – questions I wish I had asked myself years ago:

1. What conversations are you willing to have with your children regarding school safety and the risks that can arise while at school (always considering your child’s age and readiness for conversations surrounding safety)?  Topics may range from weather safety (what to do in the case of a tornado) to school violence. What will be your family plan? Who in your family can your student call in case of an emergency?

2. What about your school’s plans? Are you aware of the emergency plans? Do you know what is expected of you? It’s critical that you know and understand your school’s plan in the case of an emergency and in order to support these plans at home. For example, does the school perform lockdowns? What kinds of other drills are practiced–and how often?

3. How is outside access to the building controlled during school hours?  Are exterior doors locked or open during the day? How many points of entry into and out of your school are there? What about the security of school visitors? Is there a visitor management system, either manual (with staff checking visitors in and verifying id’s) or technology-based (such as Raptor Visitor Management) in place to vet those gaining entry into the school?

4. What about security? Does staff or security walk around the school, inside or out? Does your school have the support of a school resource officer? Does your school have any unique weaknesses in terms of its physical structure that need to be addressed? Do the classroom doors lock? If so, how? Do those locks meet fire code? How are the doors unlocked? Are glass entryways into your school fortified?

5. What law enforcement agency supports your school and is called in case of an issue? How many officers and agencies (i.e. fire, police, EMS) are available to your school if needed?

6. In the case of an emergency, what is your school’s reunification plan? Is there one? What is expected of parents in case of reunification?

7. Have you talked to your students about being good citizens as well as being good cyber-citizens? How are kids protected and/or disciplined in cases of bullying?

8. How does your school support mental health? Is there a school-based mental health professional available to students and families?  Do students know where to take concerns about themselves or their peers?  How does your school foster a culture of safety and support for all students?

9. Does your area provide unique challenges or issues that affect your student’s safety? Extreme weather or natural hazards? If so, are there weather shelters in place? Is your school in a high-crime area? If so, is walking to school appropriate? How is student safety ensured when coming and going to and from school?

10. Does your school have a system to monitor threats on social media that identify your school or students in them? What about reporting mechanism on campus? Do students have a way of reporting known information to either a trusted adult or an outside agency? Safe and Sound partners with Safe2Tell nationally. This and other organizations offer tools for students and community members to keep their schools safe.

 Having lost our precious daughter at Sandy Hook School, the thought of school safety is with my family every single day. It is my hope that communities come together, with students hand-in-hand, working purposefully, to protect every campus across our nation. The loss of one child this coming school year is one too many. Join me and our growing team of volunteers, experts, and community members who are determined to keep all kids Safe and Sound.


Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools 

As summer draws to a close, the next few weeks are prime time to take your kids back-to-school shopping. Lunch boxes, binders, and classroom essentials like tissues and cleaning wipes are necessary purchases for parents to make before children start their first day back.

Although we assume that these common school supplies are safe for our children to use, there is still the chance that harmful ingredients can be present. Before you take your child shopping, keep these three ingredients in mind and make the conscious decision to purchase and inquire about healthier products.

1. Phthalates in plastic products

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to improve the durability of plastic. They are found in a number of consumer goods including food & beverage containers, children’s toys, and even shower curtains. But, they are also widely present in school supplies such as lunch boxes, backpacks, and binders.

Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor, and multiple studies have linked exposure to developmental and reproductive concerns. Research has also suggested a risk of allergic diseases due to DEHP and BBzP phthalate exposure.

When you take your child shopping for supplies, consider purchasing eco-friendly binders made from non-plastic products such as cardboard or fabric. Avoid backpacks with plastic designs or exteriors as these likely contain phthalates. If you’re on the hunt for a new lunch box, choose cloth over hard plastic versions or check out independent reviews such as this one from Romper for phthalate and BPA-free options.

2. VOCs in classroom cleaning supplies

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a variety of chemicals released as gases from common cleaning products. Air fresheners, chlorine bleach, glass cleaners, and even wet wipes can contain these chemicals that are linked to a number of health issues. Exposure has been known to cause headaches, liver and kidney damage, and allergic skin reactions.

Oftentimes, teachers will ask students to bring in cleaning supplies for the classroom. Before you throw any brand into your cart however, check the label for VOCs. Benzyl alcohol, ammonia, and ethanol are three common ingredients to look out for, but consultCenter for Disease Control’s (CDC) list for others that may be present.

To err on the side of caution, choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies that will protect your children and the environment. If you’re still unsure about a product’s safety, look for buzzwords on the packaging like “harmful if swallowed,” “use gloves,” or “use in a well-ventilated area.” These phrases are usually good indicators that a product contains harmful chemicals like VOCs.

3. Glyphosate in School Groundskeeping Products

Although this ingredient isn’t one that parents will be able to directly impact, it’s still important to know the products that are being used to treat school grounds, sports fields, and playground areas.

Glyphosate is an active ingredient inherbicides, widely used by gardeners, homeowners, and farmers. In recent years however,lawsuits have alleged thatglyphosate is a carcinogen linked to cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In fact, a school groundskeeper’s legal casehas been the first to move forwardafter years of exposure to the chemical during his time as pest manager for a San Francisco school district.

A study published in JAMA found that the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate has increased by 500% in recent years. However, research is still being conducted to determine the human health effects of this exposure. Concerned parents should inquire with school administration about the products being used on school grounds, especially since the chemical’s safety remains under speculation.

Conclusion

Heading back to school is an exciting time, but don’t let the anticipation of a new academic year cause you to forget about your children’s safety. Take time to read product labels, inquire about the safety of your school’s groundskeeping efforts, and ensure that the items you send with your child into the classroom are safe and healthy for all.


Guest Author Bio:
Morgan Statt is a health & safety investigator who covers a number of issues including product safety and trending health news. With her background in strategic communication, she strives to educate readers on how they can make informed decisions about the products they purchase every day. In her free time, she can be found crafting the perfect Spotify playlist and supporting local businesses who share in her passion for quality food. Follow her on Twitter @morganstatt.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

We are excited to share that H&H Medical Corporation is hosting a 3-month fundraiser campaign for Safe and Sound Schools.

From July 1 through September 31, 2018, H&H Medical Corporation will donate a portion of revenue from online sales of select trauma kits and supplies to Safe and Sound Schools to help fund free programs and resources for school crisis prevention, response, and recovery.

We are incredibly thankful to be the recipient of this fundraiser and are thrilled to have H&H Medical Corporation step up to support our nation’s schools. To learn more about this fundraiser, click here.

You can support Safe and Sound Schools and help make this fundraiser a success by sharing this initiative with your network or by stocking up on trauma kits and supplies in preparation for the school year.

H&H Medical Corporation is the provider of high-quality products for emergency first responders. Click here to support the fundraiser!  

Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.

Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes.  “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began.  “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!”  I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.

When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control.  So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools 

This time of year I’m reminded of that Staples commercial that ran a few years back…

School Nurse, Helen Bailey of Cold Spring, Kentucky, reflects on her focus on school safety at the start of another school year.

Summer IS always too short for this school nurse! I treasure the lazy days of summer spent with family and friends. However, just like the students, I must face the reality of back to school.

In fact, I am thinking of back to school even during my summer break. Over the summer, I obtain my 14 hours of continuing education required for my nursing license. On a more personal level, I maintain contact with my students who have Type 1 Diabetes by inviting them and their families for a swim party at my home. This at-home connection helps the students feel more comfortable coming to me during the school year.

So here we are. Back at school. This year, my goals focus on safety.  In July, I attended Michele Gay’s 4-hour presentation on school safety. She was the keynote speaker at the Kentucky Firefighters Association conference.  Six faculty and staff from our school attended.  We are preparing to present at the next faculty meeting to share what we learned that day.

My number one goal has always been the safety of our students.  But now, I am even more informed. For instance, as I leave one building to go to the next for a parent meeting on food allergies, I take the extra second to make sure the door is locked behind me.  When I am checking a blood sugar before snack, from time to time, I will take that student with me to practice a lockdown drill.  As I fill in at the front desk for our secretary, I answer the door and ask visitors to provide their name and reason for their visit as they sign in and get a badge.  I teach CPR and the use of a defibrillator while making certain everyone has access to our defibrillator on the ball field.

Our school administration and the school board are acutely aware of school safety.  Many measures have been implemented to improve the safety on our campus.  More changes are on the horizon.  I am proud to belong to a team that strives to keep our campus as safe as possible, from the individual health needs of our students all the way up through the entire school community.

I wish everyone a safe and healthy school year!

Helen Bailey, RN
School Nurse
Cold Spring, Kentucky

Teacher and StudentIt’s that time of year. Schools across the nation are opening their doors to greet millions of students whom are a reflection of the future of our country. It’s an exciting time of year that, in my opinion, can be described in one word…fresh.

New paint, waxed hallways, and eye-catching bulletin boards will welcome back anxious and excited teachers and, of course, anxious and excited kids. Walking into the physical environment of school on that first day is always a memorable experience.

The word fresh could also be used to describe the social/emotional environment of our schools on the first day back in the classroom. Front and center are the relationships, both old and new, that ultimately shape the learning environment of the school. Everyone (And I do mean everyone) from the bus driver who greets kids in the morning to the teacher and principals that say goodbye in the afternoon plays a role in the creation of the quality of the learning environment.

As the new year begins, it is specifically those relationships between children and adults that will ultimately define the quality of the educational experience for each child when the year ends. Therefore getting off on the right foot is so very important. Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build the kind of trusting adult/child relationships needed for real learning to occur. Below are three of my personal favorites.

Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology. Unlike a “home visit,” which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early. It also gives teachers a chance to see first hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective that can help in the development of everything from individualized instruction to discipline plans.

In School Mentoring: As a school wide initiative I have to give kudos to Eastmorland Elementary in Joplin, Missouri. A few years ago they realized that their kids needed adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students to touch base with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today??” This proved to be a fantastic way to build a greater sense of community inside the school.

Student Empowerment: At the foundation of every relationship is trust. Some of the most effective schools empower students by giving them leadership roles to take on special projects and organize initiatives. One thing I have learned after 20 years in the education business, kids of all ages are capable of doing amazing things when given the opportunity. As adults, we all have a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Children are no different. Whether it happens inside or outside the walls of the school, adults can serve as a facilitator of service learning activities that give students a chance to make a positive difference. Whether it be projects like Mexico, Missouri’s second grade popcorn project that raises funds to send special needs kids to summer camp or in Pea Ridge, Arkansas’s Pea Ridge High School “Can”struction project to collect canned food items for needy families, kids can make a positive difference when given the opportunity.

Regardless of your school community’s approach to building relationships with students, the important thing to remember is that those relationships most definitely matter. Today’s myriad of social and emotional challenges faced by our youth means we need far more adults involved in the lives of our children on a day-to-day basis. Taking an internal approach utilizing the human capital you have available inside your school can go a long ways towards filling that void and setting an example for the rest of the community to follow.


CJ Huff is the retired superintendent of Joplin Schools in Joplin, MO. He is recognized nationally in the field of community engagement and 21st century education programming.