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Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.23.19 PMWe are an autism family.  We will always be.  Our daughter’s short life on earth was a journey for our family—a journey through autism into faith, hope, and compassion.  Through Joey, we learned to look at the world differently, hold onto each other tightly, and love each other fiercely.  Although her journey through autism came to a tragic end on December 14, 2012, we are committed to sharing with others all that she taught us.  In her honor, we share our experiences and support other families on this journey through autism and work to keep ALL students safe in school.

Supporting Children and Families with Autism

Joey’s Fund is one way that we aim to support families and children living with autism.  We created Joey’s Fund in honor of our daughter’s generous and compassionate spirit.  While living with autism, our family relied on the support of many other families—some with autism and special needs children, and many on a more “typical” family journey.  Providing direct support for other families with autism is our way of giving back in Joey’s name and thanking the many people that supported us during Joey’s life and after her tragic death.  We chose the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism as the home for our daughter’s fund.  The Flutie family continues their journey through autism and supports many others along the way.  We are proud that Joey’s Fund is a part of their mission to serve some of the most amazing people in the world:  autistic children, adults, and families.  We are honored to remain a part of the autism community in this way.

Autism and School Safety

Our autistic children––with all of their gifts and challenges––are some of the most precious and vulnerable members of our communities.  Most parents find that sending their child off to school alone for the first time is a great challenge.  Imagine how it feels for the parents of an autistic child.  Like many children living with autism, our daughter could not speak for herself and could not communicate her needs without the help of caring adults and peers.  Our autistic children face all of the childhood challenges and dangers of their typical peers—and exponentially more, because of their autism.

We relied on a well-educated and highly trained school staff to keep our daughter safe on a day-to-day basis; but, it was up to us to ensure that her unique safety needs were provided for while she was in school.  Her physical safety on the playground, in the classroom, and in the cafeteria required constant supervision. Like many autistic children, she loved to wander, was attracted to water, and had complex dietary requirements.  Her social-emotional well-being depended upon the facilitation skills of the staff.  She needed trained, caring professionals to help her play and interact with her peers in order to develop relationships and friendships and help her communicate her ideas, needs, and wants.

And let’s not forget her peers. Joey was young and lucky enough to enjoy true friendships with many of her classmates. Friends like Emilie, Jessica, James (and too many others to name!) were the highlight of her school days. There are no words to express the gift that Joey’s friends were to her and the family that loved and protected her in this life. Yet even her exceptional peers needed a great deal of support to understand and safely play with Joey. The safety of her beloved friends required the support of an attentive and caring school community.

Not a day goes by that our family doesn’t think about Joey.  We consider ourselves blessed for the time we had with her and on our journey through autism.  We know we are blessed to have her inspiring us in our missions: Joey’s Fund and Safe and Sound Schools, working to improve the lives and safety of precious people like her.

Michele Gay, Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools
Photo credit:  Cynthia McIntyre Photography

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Guest Blogger, Michael Dorn, Safe Havens International

Having worked in the campus safety field shutterstock_157774967for nearly thirty five years, I have never seen as much time, energy and money devoted to school safety as I have since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Formal evaluations of more than 6,000 K12 schools indicate that the results of all of this effort are mixed. In comparing the more than 1,000 K12 schools we have assessed since that attack, to the 5,000 schools our analysts assessed prior, the consensus of our 52 analysts is that while we have seen many improvements, we have also seen many well-intended but harmful efforts that actually increase danger.

For example, there is currently litigation against public safety officials in Iowa because a school employee alleges that serious injury occurred while practicing how to attack a gunman. The plaintiff’s school district insurance carrier has already paid on the original injury claim and anticipates that it will have to pay more than one million dollars in additional worker’s compensation claims from other employees who were injured during similar training sessions. To make matters worse, graduates of this training program have tested worse when asked to respond to dynamic school crisis video scenarios than school employees who have received no active shooter training at all. While education and training for school based emergencies continues to evolve and increase in demand, it is imperative that any such program is carefully vetted and proven before implementation in the school community.

In other instances, school officials have purchased school security hardware and technology solutions with unexpected negative outcomes. For example, a number of schools have purchased emergency classroom locking systems only to learn that they are unsafe and are prohibited by state fire codes. One of our clients almost spent several million dollars to equip every classroom in more than 100 schools with one such device before learning that its installation would result in a fire code violation. It is important that any modifications to the building be considered and reviewed by police and fire officials.

Fortunately, there have also been many success stories. Our analysts have seen numerous examples where school and public safety officials have dramatically improved their school safety, security and emergency preparedness measures. How have these communities been effective in avoiding pitfalls?

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The primary factor we have observed involves a formal, thorough and thoughtful all-hazards assessment process. This approach can help schools avoid the often highly emotive thinking that has resulted in the ineffective strategies that we have seen. Taking the time to conduct a proper annual all-hazards safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment can not only help to save time and money, but can save lives as well.

The Author of 27 books on school safety, Michael Dorn’s school safety work has taken him to Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Michael serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. Michael welcomes reader feedback at www.safehavensinternational.org

Preparedness is a hard word to digest. It’s long and has a stale taste as it leaves your lips. As a concept, it is always just a little too ambiguous (i.e., How do I know when I’m really prepared?) or too overwhelming (i.e., The 165.5 Steps to Safety).

Preparedness, by any other name, is much more simple—it’s being ready. Unlike preparing for emergencies, preparing for everyday things is easier and often happens without forethought. We prepare for the day by “making sure the kids have both shoes and a lunch when they leave for school” or we prepare for success by “studying to pass our tests and graduate.” Preparation comes easily and makes the most sense when we do it to provide for, protect and support the people we love so that they can be safe, healthy and successful.

The fault in our logic is that, because we don’t know when emergencies might happen, we don’t necessarily prepare for them in the way that we should. The devastating aspect of this lack of preparation is that our children—the people we love the most—are often the most vulnerable individuals in times of crises. As a nation we are largely under-prepared to protect children in emergencies.

  • Each day, 69 million children are in school or child care, away from their parents should disaster strike. Still 21 states and the DC lack basic standards for protecting children in these settings.
  • Less than half of American families have an emergency plan.
  • And although two-thirds of parents are concerned about the risk their child faces from disasters or school shootings, 67 percent don’t know how often and what types of emergency drills are practiced at school.

Keeping children safe requires the cooperation and involvement of the entire community. It involves emergency managers, government, organizations, schools, care providers, and families who want children to be safe no matter where they are. Between the systems, plans and protocols, YOU, as a parent or care giver, play the most critical role keeping children safe and securing their future.

We need to be champions for our children—if we aren’t, who will be?

Don’t wait until it’s too late to take action.

  • Be familiar with your community’s emergency protocols, including communication and warning systems.
  • Ask about schools’ and caregivers’ emergency plans; ensure that everyone who cares for your child(ren) has your current emergency contact information.
  • Make a family emergency plan that accounts for different types of emergencies and identifies different evacuation routes and meet-up locations.
  • Be an advocate for children’s safety, raising your voice about creating emergency plans at state and local levels that account for children’s unique needs.

Fostering a culture of preparedness begins with children. It’s about starting the dialogue about emergencies early in life, making education a priority, and creating an environment where preparedness is expected, not an afterthought tacked on to the latest disaster. By integrating these life-saving skills and lessons from the beginning, we can turn the tide, sparking a movement and building a generation of citizens who are prepared for disaster.

If that ugly preparedness word still plagues you and you’re tempted to avoid it or put it off, I urge you do it now–do it for your kids. They deserve a safe and empowered childhood. They deserve the opportunity to talk about, learn, and build resilience before an emergency strikes.

Whether we admit it or not, saying, “I prepared to keep you safe is saying, “I love you and protecting you is important to me.

-Sarah Thompson, Associate Director, Get Ready Get Safe, Save the Children

 

 

 

I dealt with school violence before it was front-page news. To me, any child killed anywhere, anytime, is a huge tragedy; but, decades ago, when children were killed in the inner city of Cleveland, you probably never heard about them. The Newtown shootings shocked this country like no other school violence. Working in school safety for over 30 years, I have tried to help schools and communities keep our youth safe and healthy so that they can learn more and live better. I offer several lessons that I have learned.

School violence can happen anywhere, but not here. 
After school shootings, it is often heard, “I cannot believe that it can happen here.” As we have learned, school violence can happen anywhere. Don’t be surprised after the next tragedy if someone says, “I cannot believe that it can happen here.” Denial is human but, denial allows violence and danger to grow unseen.

Be prepared, not scared.
Schools are not powerless. Awareness, education, and advocacy can help break down this attitude that it can’t happen here. Schools and districts need to have a school-community emergency plan of action in place for students, staff, and parents. It should be both practiced and proactive. Practice drills are crucial. Preparation allows violence and potential danger to be dealt with before it unfolds.

Social media has changed how we communicate.
Texts, tweets, and Facebook posts, which were not around at the time of the Columbine shootings, now offer instant information–and misinformation. Before problems occur, students need to be part of a dialogue with parents and educators to make schools safer. Social media may prove to be one of the best new tools to help keep our schools safe and parents informed, and to encourage students to take ownership of their schools and education.

Bullying is a symptom, and mental health is the issue.
Bullying is a hot topic and often is blamed for school violence. Bullying is serious and must be addressed but, bullying is often referred to as a cause for school violence even when it is not, as in Columbine. Issues such as mental illness, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, anger, family violence and substance abuse are often at the root of bullying behaviors and require immediate attention.

Treat the illness: not the symptom.
Many experts advocate for a comprehensive mental-health approach for the schools, families, and community. Some suggest that teachers be taught mental health first aid to assist those in crisis. As we often see, hurt people, hurt people; and the use of mental health and wellness professionals, such as, school counselors, school social workers, school nurses, school psychologists, as well as, school resource officers may enable us to help people, help people.

Building relationships is key.
The Secret Service found that school shooters usually tell other kids, but not adults. Adults trusted by kids may be given life saving information. Teaching to the heart, as well as to the head to reach the whole child, not only academically, but also to the social, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions, will help build a school and community of respect and trust.

When emergency occurs, you need to be aggressive, forceful, and effective.
An emergency plan of action needs to be in place, practiced and proactive. Teachers and students should be trained and practiced in emergency protocols. Parents need low tech and high tech communication systems for responding to school emergencies. Gone are the days of Columbine when police waited for hours to enter the school. Today police and community emergency response teams are trained for rapid response. School communities must prepare with responders in order to address emergencies.

Healing is personal.
Schools need to be prepared to deal with the consequences of violence immediately and long after the incident. Individuals react to trauma and grief in a wide a range of ways, and there is no best way or timeline for these processes.

There are no guarantees, only intelligent alternatives.
Today, we are better prepared to deal with and prevent school violence than we were in the earlier days in Cleveland and Columbine. There still is no 100% guarantee that our schools will be violence-free. There are no easy solutions, but there are intelligent alternatives to reduce the risks. It’s time for all schools to explore these alternatives. For some, tomorrow may be too late.

Dr. Stephen Sroka, Safe and Sound Advisor and Professional Contributor.

© 2013 Stephen R. Sroka, PhD, Lakewood, Ohio. Used with permission.

Stephen Sroka, PhD, is an adjunct assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the president of Health Education Consultants. He is an award-winning educator, author and internationally recognized speaker. He has worked with school violence issues worldwide for more than 30 years. Connect with Sroka on his website www.DrStephenSroka.com or by e-mail at drssroka@aol.com

 

 

Safety and Security. These two words get tossed around and together all the time. They are often used interchangeably. They are, of course, strongly related, but two distinct concepts nonetheless.

In terms of our school communities, “safety” is a global term, used to describe our efforts to keep the school community and environment safe. Safety is an “umbrella term” for the many types of issues and/or crises a school community addresses in order to ensure the overall wellness of its members.

Examples of such issues are health, mental wellness, school climate, fire safety, weather safety, building security, dangerous persons, bullying, environmental disaster, crime in the community, and bus and traffic safety. The number and type of each issue a school community addresses is highly specific to the community. Factors such as location, student population, culture, geographic location, and proximity to potential dangers are completely unique to each school.

While many schools are focusing intently on building security because of recent events like our tragedy, it is critically important that school communities examine the entire “Safety Umbrella” of their school in order to provide a truly comprehensive plan for school safety. Security may be the most lacking of all aspects of safety in our schools today and as such deserves our attention. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that security represents one of many critical aspects of the “School Safety Umbrella.”

What kind of coverage does your school’s “safety umbrella” provide?

MG

Safety Umbrella