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Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!

 

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 fist-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 tornedo) 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 practice–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 schools?

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 schools 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 ReportIt 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 

On the morning of December 14, 2012, I received a phone call that changed my life forever. It was an automated phone call from the Newtown School District informing me that there had been a shooting at one of the schools. Shocked, I listened to the message waiting for information. There is a shooting? How did this happen? What do I do? What is happening with my daughter Emilie? What does her school even do in an event like this? But the message didn’t address any of these questions.

After the short recording ended, I stood there confused. I wondered what to do next. I was standing in a children’s store, Christmas shopping with my youngest daughter. I got into my car and started driving towards the school. I called my husband to see what he could find out. He said the shooting had been at the elementary school and he heard on the news that parents were not supposed to go to the school yet to pick up their kids. Desperate to do something, I went to the preschool to pick up my daughter Madeline. There I was told by other parents that it was okay to go and get our children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I quickly loaded my daughters into the car and headed to the elementary school. The road was so backed up with cars and emergency vehicles. It felt like forever before I reached the school.

The driveway to Sandy Hook Elementary School was long and curved, the school not visible from the main road. The volunteer firehouse was situated at the corner of the main road and the school driveway. Approaching this corner, I took in the chaos. Children, educators, parents and first responders were all running around every which way. I imagined how scared Emilie must be around all that chaos and I couldn’t wait to find her. Cars were piled up everywhere and some cars were even parked on neighboring people’s lawns. As I ran down the road with my youngest daughters towards the school, I was told three different directions to find Emilie. By the time I reached the firehouse, I was confused, emotional and frustrated. What is going on? What am I supposed to do? Unable to find Emilie or her teacher, I was directed to the back of the firehouse. I was told to wait there.

I had imagined this room to be filled with joy as parents and children found each other and embraced with big hugs. Instead, the room filled up with parents like me. We waited and waited. Police officers and representatives from the school district were all there, but they looked just as confused as we did. I wanted to know what had happened. I wanted to know where Emilie was. But every time I asked for information, I was told nothing. What I didn’t know was that our beloved principal was gone. Without her, no one knew what to do. There was no orderly release of children to parents. Neighbors and family members were taking home other children, adding to the confusion and panic of parents arriving, unable to locate their child.

Only a week before the shooting at Sandy Hook, there had been an evacuation drill. It included an announcement, classroom lines walking calmly from the school and lining up at the firehouse, side by side. Controlled. What Sandy Hook had practiced wasn’t anything like the scene I saw that day. So many things never imagined happened that day. Part of our mission at Safe and Sound Schools is to help share our experience to help other schools around the country learn to be prepared. Schools that we have worked with across the country are now making change with us. They are preparing themselves for the unimaginable. What if their principal is unavailable? Who is the backup? Do teachers and students know where to go? Do the parents know the plan? By educating schools to ask these and many other questions, we are making an impact upon the preparedness and confidence of school communities nationwide.

untitled-design-9Help us spread the word and share our resources with other school communities. Explore our website and free resources to see how our team of experts can help your school prepare for safety.


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools and mother to Emilie Parker 

 

“Caveman Plans” – Planning for What Comes Naturally

In 2002, I was an assistant principal at an elementary school on the south side of Indianapolis. On September 20, a beautiful fall day ended with an EF3 tornado that raged through 100 miles of Indiana cities and countryside. At approximately 2:00pm, the tornado clipped a middle school to the west of us, and then came to within 25-50 yards of our school before decimating the surrounding neighborhood.

TornadoPath

No one in the building was hurt, although quite a few became terrified when the twister tore off several ventilator covers on our roof, causing water to cascade into the hallways. We lost power, and were forced to stay in the building until around 9:00pm, when first responders arrived with a convoy of buses to take the children to a reunification point.

Judy Livingston was the principal, and she was masterful that day. She made sure the kids had access to the restrooms, had snacks brought to each classroom, and through it all maintained accountability of her children and staff, all while maintaining a calm aura of leadership that carried us through the incident. I learned a lot from her that day.

 

Technology is Great, Until it Isn’t

The biggest lesson I learned that day was that technology is great, until it isn’t. We learned from our local experiences on 9/11, just over a year before, that communications are critical during an incident. We had purchased quite a few radios, and had incorporated them into our culture. Leading up to the tornado near-miss, we used our radios to communicate with the central office, and I tracked the storms progress over the Internet.

And then the power went out.

For about an hour, the radios continued to work. Communications with the central office were hampered by undisciplined radio traffic, but Judy was able to pass along instructions to the teachers. However, with the power out, we were unable to recharge the radios, and soon they were useless. Cell phones were out, as was the phone system. Our school had returned to a “natural” state.

With the power out, there were no lights in the building, and soon nearly 1,000 children needed to go to the bathroom, which were dark. Flashlights ran down in a couple of hours, so when the sun went down, it got very dark. How were we able to respond so well?

Judy had a “caveman plan”.

Caveman Plan

Judy knew that there would come a time when all of the great technology we had would be rendered useless due to loss of power. She planned accordingly. Knowing that the caveman had survived without power, she planned to be able to operate just like cave men and women would if necessary.

She had 6-8 children from the oldest grade in the office, and used them as runners to send messages to the teachers through out the building. She assigned them a section of the school so they would be familiar with that part of the school, even in the dark. Her most common messages were, “How are you and the kids?” and “How many do you have?” She wanted to remind them they weren’t alone, and that they needed to maintain accountability.

So how do you create a “caveman plan”? Take your current emergency plans and think about how you would implement those plans without power. The following suggestions are a start:

1) Use runners to aid in communication

2) Use flashlights powered by shaking or winding, not batteries

3) Have an emergency radio handy, preferably one that is powered by a hand
crank

4) Older schools have a “hard line” phone line installed. Locate it, and have a
simple phone handy. It will work even if the power is out, unless the line
itself is destroyed.

5) Have battery-operated “tap lights” available for use in restrooms. Stock
plenty of replacement batteries. Check them every year for usability.

6) Maintain hard copies of student data. Not having access to the student
database will not protect you if you send a child away with the wrong adult.

Get your planning team together and see if you can add to this list. Make sure it will work for you. Like any plan, practice it. Learn from mistakes made, and be ready when the power goes out.

Steve Satterly is a school safety practitioner in Central Indiana.  He is a researcher and analyst with Safe Havens International, and a co-author of Staying Alive: How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, published by Barron’s Educational Series.