With the close of this year’s first quarter, we’re excited to share an update for January, February, and March.
We started the year with a visit to Westport High School in Massachusetts. During her visit, Co-founder Michele Gay shared her story and introduced the Safe and Sound Youth Council to students and staff. Later in January, Michele made her way to Pennsylvania to present for staff and shared Safe and Sound Schools’ resources and programs with the Hazleton Area School District.
Early in February, Michele traveled to Georgetown, South Carolina, where she presented first for students and staff and then for the community. Shortly after, she traveled to Wisconsin to present for the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. In late February, Co-founder Alissa Parker headed to the Cincinnati area, where she shared her story and practical ways to improve school safety with community members. Soon after, Michele traveled back to South Carolina to attend the South Carolina Association School Administrators School Safety Summit, where she shared her story and lessons learned in school safety. February community visits concluded in Michele’s home state of Maryland, where she attended Howard County’s school safety community meeting to advocate for funding and improved safety measures and training. Finally, Michele conducted a nationwide webinar with School Messenger, citing the power of communication capability and planning for school-based crisis management.
March community visits kicked off with a visit to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Safe and Sound Speaker and Mental Health Advisor, Dr. Stephen Brock, presented on bullying and suicide prevention for the Arkansas Mental Health in Education Association (ARMEA). The following week, Alissa traveled to Arlington, Virginia to present at the National PTA Legislative Conference, while Michele gathered with Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech Survivor; Dr. Melissa Reeves, School-Based Mental Health Expert; Dr. CJ Huff, former superintendent of the Joplin, Missouri Schools; Kiki Lebya, Columbine survivor and teacher; John McDonald, school security and safety expert; and Mac Hardy of the National Association of School Resource Officers to kick off the Maryland School Safety Initiative, sponsored by the Maryland Center for School Safety and The BFG Foundation of Maryland. This year’s theme, Recovering the School Community from Crisis, brought together inspiring stories of recovery and resiliency and was particularly timely in the wake of several national school-based crisis. Stay tuned for more travel and trainings across Maryland as part of this year’s Maryland School Safety Initiative.
Also in March, Raptor Technologies hosted Dr. CJ Huff once again in a nationally attended school safety webinar on called “Seven Leadership Lessons.” And the University at Buffalo hosted the 15th Annual Safe Schools Initiative Seminar, where Michele and Dr. Amanda Nickerson presented alongside Mo Canady, Safe and Sound Advisor and Executive Director for the National Association of School Resource Officers. While Safe and Sound speaker and Virginia Tech survivor, Lisa Hamp, spoke at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Michele spoke in Wellesley, Massachusetts where she shared her story and invited community members to rethink school safety as a community. The following day, Michele traveled to Illinois to speak at the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association Conference, accompanied by Safe and Sound speaker and special advisor, Frank DeAngelis. Several days after this conference, Frank traveled to Georgia where he presented for the Eastside High School community. Later, Safe and Sound speaker Lisa Hamp traveled to Chicago to present her survivor’s story to Chicago area school leaders. The first quarter concluded with Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves joining forces with Morris County, New Jersey school and law enforcement leaders to create a customized threat assessment matrix for assessing and managing threats to school safety.
Our first quarter was not only defined by the communities we visited and the relationships we forged during this period, it was also defined by the tragic events that took place during this time. We found ourselves deeply inspired by the student-led movements and took action to support the STOP School Violence Act of 2018. We also launched a national survey focusing on school safety perceptions and are currently analyzing the data to provide insights in the form of our first annual “State of School Safety” report to help school communities better tackle the myriad challenges of school safety. Stay tuned for our findings later in the spring.
To support Safe and Sound Schools and our mission, you can share our materials, donate, shop our School Store, or purchase an Inspire Change bracelet from Jammin Hammer Jewelry. Learn more about Jammin Hammer’s fundraiser for Safe and Sound Schools, here.
As parents of children with autism, we already know firsthand the many challenges associated with keeping our kids safe, both in and out of school. The nature of our child’s disorder often presents a wide range of behaviors that can make their safety our full-time job. Wandering/elopement, PICA, choking, water fixations, inability to communicate in an emergency, and general situational fearlessness mark a few of the many things we face (or simply worry about) on a daily basis.
The statistics from the National Autism Association speak for themselves:
- Approximately 48% of children with an ASD attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
- Two in three parents of elopers have experienced a traffic injury “close call”
- More than one-third of ASD children who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number
I know how easy it is to become consumed with debilitating fear every time your child is out of your sight. When my daughter, Jenna, was younger, I often felt powerless to protect her – or, to even be able to predict how she would react and respond in any given situation. Now, as she’s approaching 15-years old, I understand that while parents of children with autism have to be exceptionally vigilant at all times, we do have resources and options available to support us in our efforts to keep them keep them safe.
Create Your Safety Plan
Every family has their own safety routines for their child with autism. Over the years, my husband, Jonathan, and I have learned and implemented various tools, tips, and technologies into a cohesive safety plan for Jenna. For example, we know that every time we enter a room, we assess available exits and create a strategy that ensures Jenna is continuously monitored by one of us. We keep a window decal on Jenna’s side of the car that alerts first responders that Jenna is unable to communicate her needs in the event of an accident, and we take photos of her, almost daily, in case she wanders off and we need to tell responders what she was wearing.
Often, parents assume that a 1:1 aide will be able to handle whatever safety issues arise and make modifications on the fly. It is important to be sure that the aide is well trained and equipped to support your child in a variety of emergency situations. Does your child’s aide carry emergency essentials that your child might require (lollipops to stay quiet during lockdown, fidget toys to stay occupied, first aide items)? Has he/she been trained in all safety protocols and equipped to carry them out? Does he/she have keys to the classroom door? What about communication capability (i.e radio, cell phone, office call button, access to the PA system)? Or a wheelchair or “stair chair” to assist in transporting or evacuating your child if necessary?
Other useful resources we’ve incorporated into our safety routines include:
Most parents don’t realize they can have safety goals and emergency plans outlined in their child’s IEP. Always discuss your child’s specific needs with the school administration and Special Education director to put a detailed plan in place.
We use the SafetyNet tracking device to help keep our daughter safe. Worn on a child’s ankle or wrist, this device ensures that should she wander off while wearing the tracker, police/fire department can quickly locate her.
Similarly, many parents use the Life360 app for children who have their own smartphone.
We installed an active alarm system in our home that instantly alerts us whenever a door or window opens. The alarm enables us to respond quickly should Jenna wander off. There are many low tech ways to alarm the doors of your home, from hanging bells to installing individual door alarms that you can find at your local hardware store.
Keep those “kid safety locks” on at all times to ensure your child can’t open the car door while the vehicle is in motion. Yes, you will inevitably inadvertently lock your adult friends in your backseat at some point – they will forgive you.
Partnering with First Responders
Our town offers the Erin Program; a program created specifically for special needs families. Parents create an emergency profile for their child to help first responders in the event of an emergency. All personal information is securely stored and not made public. Contact your local police or fire department to see if your town offers this program or something similar.
No matter how many apps we download or strategies we implement, we will always worry about our children and their safety – as all parents do. However, for parents of children with autism, continuously tapping into the resources available to us can deliver the much-needed peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to advocate for and protect our kids at all times.
Susan Parziale is the Administrative Coordinator for Safe and Sound Schools and lives in Boston.
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the many survivors, and friends and families affected by sexual assault, we share Katie’s story of hope and perseverance.
As an incoming college freshman, I was so excited to start college and live independently for the first time. I was encouraged to be outgoing and social with my peers to make new friends. I jumped in whole-heartedly. My suite mates and I grew close quickly and spent lots of time meeting new people in the first few weeks of school. I was having a great experience.
However, only two weeks into the semester, my experience turned into a nightmare. I met a fellow student on my dorm floor. He invited my roommate and I to decorate his dorm room. We were happy to help. Once there, he offered us both alcoholic drinks. I decided to accept his offer, but my roommate had class and decided not to drink. When it was time for my roommate to leave for class, I headed to the door with her; but he insisted that I stay and watch a movie. I agreed.
Shortly after my roommate left, my mind became foggy and he started making sexual advances. I no longer knew what was happening and lost touch with reality. I blacked out.
The next morning, I woke up to a bruised and bloody body. I felt sick and had a bad headache. It was a struggle to get out of bed. I was scared and did not know where to turn.
My parents had lectured me about the dangers of drinking, so I decided not to tell them what happened initially after the incident. No college student wants to tell her parents something like this, but ultimately, I decided to tell them. Thankfully, they were more understanding than I expected. In hindsight, I recommend that all students have a support person, a trusted adult with whom they can confide in case something serious happens on campus. With support, I believe I would have made different decisions and better navigated the reporting process.
Although I did decide to go to the hospital, I did not initially call 911 or report my rape to the police. At the hospital, I was told that I could file a “delayed report.” Overwhelmed with the idea of reporting to the police, I chose this option. However, when I did file with the local police, I was told that it was too late to investigate. My “complaint” was closed and labeled as a “non-criminal, suspicious condition;” therefore, no action was taken.
I decided to turn to the University for help. Initially, they seemed supportive and promised academic assistance and free medical treatment. Filing a Title IX complaint, which protects a victim’s rights to a safe academic environment, was optional, and not necessary to get support. However, I was afraid of my offender and requested an investigation because my fear of running into him affected my class attendance and ability to complete assignments.
I struggled through the rest of the semester. I was promised both academic support and a safe learning environment but received neither. I didn’t feel safe and felt misunderstood by the college administration that I had turned to for help. The college conducted a haphazard investigation, which decided my offender was not at fault, even though I had a hospital exam with pictures of injuries and he admitted to giving me alcohol and having sex.
I learned that individual student interests might not be the first priority of a school. I also learned to be cautious when deciding to use support services on campus. It is important to consider finding independent, legal counsel or reaching out to a free support organization such as One Love or Take Back the Night for guidance and support. Hiring a lawyer is something I did not think I needed to do at the time, but later, I regretted not finding one to help with the investigation process and to ensure my rights.
Once I did consult with an attorney, it was recommended that I have my hair tested for drugs. The hair test came back positive for a Benzodiazepine, which I never took voluntarily. Many drugs leave the body quickly and do not show up on minimal screenings in hospital rape exams.
Two years later, I look back on my nightmare. I realize that I survived a difficult time because I learned to ask for help. My friends and family supported me when justice failed. I left the University and returned home to heal. I have started taking classes again at a school nearby. I found counseling and began educating students and supporting other sexual assault victims as part of my healing.
The best advice I could give to anyone struggling with sexual assault or any traumatic experience is to persevere and know that things will eventually get better. Healing can take a long time, but finding people who embrace and support you through your struggles can help you get through it.
For more information and resources on dating violence, sexual assault prevention and recovery, please visit the following websites:
School-age children often spend up to a third of their day in school, but while they run, play and learn, hidden toxins and chemicals could be impairing their health and development. Schools are meant to help teach our children about the world around them, but they also have a duty to keep kids safe. In honor of National Poison Prevention Week (March 18–24, 2018), it’s important to keep in mind that poisons come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from environmental toxins to the chemicals used to clean the floors.
It takes a lot of work to keep a school building clean, but the cleaners and solvents used to keep people healthy can cause a variety of problems as well, ranging from headaches, nausea and dizziness to chronic issues like asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an astounding 1 in 11 U.S. children have asthma, resulting in more than 10 million absent days from school.
Cleaning supplies, including air fresheners, rug cleaners and floor polishes, may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have been linked to respiratory problems. Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted an evaluation of 21 school cleaning supplies and found that nearly 30 percent of them released at least one asthma-causing toxin into the air. Even common cleaners are capable of causing damage. For example, if cleaners containing ammonia and bleach are mixed they create chloramine gases that cause coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.
It’s important to encourage the use of green cleaners to prevent germs and keep people healthy. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that being greener may improve overall student and teacher health, reduce absences, save money and even extend a facility’s lifespan.
The Air Around Us
Green cleaning practices go a long way toward keeping us safer, but no amount of scrubbing can change the environment that children, teachers and other faculty find themselves in each day. Older schools, particularly those built prior to the mid-1970s, run the risk of containing lead and asbestos, which are both known to cause severe health problems, but are almost entirely avoidable.
Although there are regulations in place for schools that maintain their own water supplies, the vast majority are unregulated and are simply encouraged to perform voluntary testing. Children are estimated to absorb four to five times the lead as adults are, and lead poisoning may result in mental and developmental disabilities, anemia and hypertension.
Asbestos was used in hundreds of building materials throughout the early- and mid-20th century, and can be found in schools across the country. When materials containing asbestos incur wear and tear and, fibers are released into the air and, and once inhaled or ingested, can possibly result in one of several types of cancer called mesothelioma.
The air around a school is also capable of causing respiratory problems for children and teachers. A recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity suggested that nearly 8,000 schools currently sit fewer than 500 feet away from a major roadway, exposing children to a wide array of carcinogens capable of causing asthma attacks, weak lung growth, and hamper a child’s ability to learn.
Toxic School Supplies
We tend not to think about the items our children use in schools as dangerous, but crayons, glues, and even lunch boxes can contain chemicals. For example, some dry-erase markers contain methyl isobutyl ketone, a solvent capable of causing dizziness, nausea and headaches. Newer markers contain a much safer alcohol-based formula.
Other everyday items found in schools, like backpacks and lunch pails, could contain phthalates, which are used to make plastics softer, but have been linked to dangers including early onset puberty, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even cancer development. For parents interested in avoiding vinyl and PVC products, they can purchase items that are made without phthalates and look for recycling symbols alerting customers of PVC.
Parents concerned about their child’s school and art supplies should look for products with the phrase “conforms to ASTM D 4236” or labels from the Art and Creative Materials Institute. These products meet federal regulations and are labeled with messages about any health hazards they may cause.
What Does The Future Look Like?
The truth is that no matter how hard we try to control for every chemical and toxin, everyone is still going to be exposed to them in some amount throughout the course of their lives. With that said, there are plenty of things we can do to limit exposure to these toxins.
Green cleaners and safer practices will help reduce cases of asthma, while taking a more conscious approach to school shopping can keep PVC items and phthalates out of the classroom. Our environments can also be kept safer by improving air quality through the use of air-cleaning plants, more efficient air purifying systems and by voluntarily testing water for harmful contaminants.
In many cases, chemical exposure is almost entirely avoidable by simply being more mindful of the products they use and the environment they’re learning in. Taking a few small steps today can ensure our kids have a bright and healthy, future.
Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter.
Safe and Sound Schools wants to hear from you about the state of school safety in your community. We are launching a national survey to measure perceptions of school safety among parents, students, and educators. We hope you will take a few minutes to complete the survey by Friday, March 9. The survey only takes 5 minutes, and your responses will be anonymous. The survey can be found here (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/572KSWJ).
Safe and Sound Schools will publish a report on the survey findings in the spring. We hope the insights gained from this research will help school communities better tackle the challenge of school safety. As you well know, this is an issue that affects our entire country, and with your help, we can make a difference. And please, if you care about this issue, please ask your friends, family, and school communities to take this survey as well. The more people who participate, the better, as we’ll have an even-more clear look at the state of school safety.
Thank you for your time.
Michele and Alissa
As we look forward to continuing our work and mission in 2018, we’d like to share a look back at our work in the last half of 2017.
We kicked off the month of July with Michele delivering a keynote and afternoon workshops in Philadelphia for the Independent School Safety and Security Summit. Then it was off to the Campus Safety East Conference where co-founder Michele Gay presented alongside Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound contributor. Following this conference, Michele headed to Massachusetts to present to the Massachusetts Association of Superintendents in Cape Cod, reconnecting with many of our Massachusetts school communities and meeting many more. On the same day, speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on leadership lessons in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The end of the month took Michele back to the the National Heritage Academies’ School Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As the end of the month approached, Michele and Safe and Sound Speaker Lisa Hamp joined NASRO and attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Michele was honored to read the names of fallen school officers at the National Law Enforcement Memorial. It was a truly beautiful ceremony with many of our SRO friends from across the country in attendance. July travels concluded in California where Michele Gay, Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, and Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin spoke and networked with school safety leaders on the west coast.
In August, co-founder Alissa Parker attended the 2017 School Administrators Emergency Training Summit in where she presented and visited local leadership. Michele headed back to Massachusetts to present for the Westerly Public School staff and safety leadership.
Community visits picked back up in September with Michele presenting at the IMF Women’s Security Awareness Training in Washington, D.C. She then traveled to Illinois to speak to Illinois Fire Service Administrative Professionals. Soon after, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis traveled west to Sierra Vista High School in California to speak to school staff about his personal story and leadership lessons learned. In the east, Alissa traveled Massachusetts to share her story of faith, hope, and healing. She then traveled to Springfield, Illinois to attend the Illinois Association of School Administrators Conference to speak on school safety. Meanwhile, Michele headed to Canada to attend the Ottawa Area Safe Schools Network Summit. September community visits concluded with a trip back to Illinois where Michele Gay presented for the Valley View School District School Safety Conference.
Although September was an exciting month due to all the community visits, perhaps one of the biggest highlights of September was the launch of the Safe and Sound Youth Council. In only a few short months, we are proud to report that this program has been delivered to more than 23 states. Our students are stepping up for the safety of their schools and communities. To learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council program, click here.
In October, Alissa hit the road again, traveling to Wyoming with Safe and Sound Advisor, Paul Timm, PSP for the Wyoming School Safety Summit. Sandy Hook survivor, Natalie Hammond traveled to Missouri for Safe and Sound to keynote and lead a workshop on school safety team building for the Missouri Center for Education Safety. Her presentations were very well received by all in attendance!
Later in the month, Alissa traveled to Pennsylvania to present at the Delaware County Safe Schools Summit. Her visit was so successful that we are already planning a follow up workshop in the near future. Soon after, with sponsorship from Status Solutions, Safe and Sound Schools was able to attend the 2017 National Resilience Institute Summit in Chicago where Michele presented a keynote and participated in a panel discussion with national leaders in resilience. A couple days afterwards, Michele presented for the Axis School Safety Symposium in Minnesota with Safe and Sound Advisor and Contributor, Paul Timm, PSP. Michele then headed to Plymouth to speak at Wyzata High School for a Security Symposium. Alissa completed October travels with a visit to Houston to attend the Crime Stoppers Gala, presenting alongside Bob Woodruff of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
In November, Safe and Sound Schools participated in several webinars. Michele kicked off November with a webinar in partnership with Raptor Technologies. She discussed the ways in which school leaders can galvanize their local community to improve school safety. In mid November, Michele was joined by Safe and Sound speaker Dr. CJ Huff to present on how schools can harness the power of the community to keep schools safe. This webinar was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions and was hosted by Campus Safety Magazine.
In early November, Michele and speaker/advisor Dr. Melissa Reeves presented a full day workshop on Reunification of the School Community for the Colorado Society of School Psychologists in Vail, Colorado. Soon after, Michele traveled to New York to present for the New York State Association of School Nurses, followed by Alissa’s presentation for the ScanSource corporate conference on November 15th.
Community visits slowed in December, as 2017 marked the five year anniversary of Sandy Hook. Michele and Alissa used this as a time to draw close to their immediate and Sandy Hook families. To learn more about Sandy Hook’s legacy and how some families are choosing to honor their loved ones, read some of the news stories below:
To catch up on blogs you may have missed during the second half of the year, visit our Blog.
Many thanks to our nationwide community of supporters and school communities for joining and supporting us in our work to bring safety to every community, every school, and every child.