When parents put their children on a school bus each morning, they are entrusting bus drivers, teachers, classroom aids and administrators with the health and safety of their children. School is supposed to be a secure, happy place for children to learn, grow, make friends and flourish, but when there are toxins in your children’s school supplies, this environment can become dangerous, and in some cases, even life-threatening. Below are some of the worst toxins your children may come in contact with at school, and how you can limit or prevent this exposure.
Many children will only agree to go back to school shopping if they are allowed to pick out fun supplies for their classes. For many kids, this can mean glitter pens and scented markers, but parents beware. A carcinogen known as benzene has been found in many brands of dry erase markers, and can harm your children if they even smell the tips of scented magic markers or dry erase markers.
If your children attend a school built before 1970, the walls, floors and ceilings are most likely lined with asbestos-containing insulation. Your children will probably not know they have even come in contact with asbestos, but even trace amounts of secondhand exposure to these fibers can cause mesothelioma. This incurable cancer will eventually manifest in the lining of the lungs, stomach and heart. It typically takes between 20 and 50 years to show symptoms, which are vague, but can include weight loss, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
This poisonous chemical has also been found in many packs of crayons, which makes it especially harmful for children. As the wax from the crayons comes in contact with paper, it disturbs this harmful substance and puts students at risk. If you are concerned about your children being exposed to asbestos from their classrooms or school buildings, attend a PTA or school board meeting to inquire about asbestos management. Schools are legally required to have an asbestos management plan in place and parents are allowed to request access to this plan at any time.
The most commonly known classroom toxin is lead, which was once used in interior paint, pencils, and mixed into the metal that was used to create desks and chairs. Now, however, lead is being found in different materials that students bring to class. Lead has been discovered in the plastic that comprises both water bottles and lunch boxes, which can potentially make your little one’s food and drinks hazardous.
Lead has been phased out of most metals and even paints, but can still be found in many plastic compounds. To ensure that your children’s lunches do not come into contact with lead, a paper bagged lunch is a safer alternative.
To keep your children protected from toxic chemicals and substances they can come into contact with at school, research the school supplies they will need for classes before you purchase anything, and try to use BPA and additive-free plastics when possible. Your children deserve to be as safe at school as they are in your arms.
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.
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
Lisa Hamp is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place on April 16, 2007. Today, Lisa speaks and writes about her experience surviving and recovering from the Virginia Tech shooting to help others.
I remember as a kid when I used to get excited for a new school year. I would look forward to back-to-school shopping, new clothes, and new school supplies. I would look forward to finding out my class schedule, and which friends I was going to have class with.
My heart aches for the students who aren’t going to have that this year. My heart aches for the students who have survived a school tragedy and don’t want to return to school. My heart aches for those who have witnessed school violence and are experiencing high anxiety as they are fearful to return to school this year.
I grew up in middle-to-upper class suburbia. Helicopter parents, and chain restaurants. Kids wearing Abercrombie and moms driving minivans. I felt safe all the time. But on April16, 2007, that sense of safety was stripped from me. I was sitting in class at Virginia Tech when I heard an unfamiliar popping sound. It sounded like gunfire. During the next eleven minutes, my classmates and I laid on the floor pushing the desks and chairs against the door while the gunman shot at our door and tried to push it open. In those terrible minutes, the gunman killed 30 students and professors in the building, and wounded and traumatized many more.
My recovery journey was far from perfect, but I eventually found my way through the fog. When I reflect on recovery, I realize I learned a lot about counseling, boundaries, confidence, self-care, and feelings. This stuff isn’t taught in school. You learn it by observing those around you.
For those of you who have survived a school shooting or witnessed school violence, I want to share with you what I learned as you return to the school this year.
First, going back to school was harder than I expected. I had a tremendous fear of a shooting happening again. Many people would tell me that it wouldn’t happen again, but I thought to myself, “they don’t know that.” I finally had to accept that there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.
Second, I learned to feel the uncomfortable feelings. I felt survivor’s guilt, fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness and self-doubt. I learned that these feelings were telling me something. They were telling me that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I hadn’t been shot, I had been hurt. As time passed, I was able to rebuild that sense of safety, and acknowledge my own wounds.
Third, I found good listeners. My recovery made great strides when I began connecting with others affected by school tragedy. These people helped me feel less lonely. We bonded. We connected on a level deeper than I connected with some of my closest family and friends.
If you have suffered a traumatic experience in school, getting back in the classroom may be one of the biggest challenges in your life. So here’s my advice: Trust your gut. Listen to your feelings. Write in a journal. Talk to your friends. Hug your friends. Trust yourself. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Ask to step out of class when it feels uncomfortable. You got this! And remember, you are not alone.
Lisa Hamp, is a survivor, a wife and mother, and national level speaker with Safe and Sound Schools. Learn more about her experiences and work with Safe and Sound Schools at http://www.kirklandproductions.com/lisa-hamp.html.
By: John McDonald, Executive Director for Security and Emergency Management, Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado
Now that school is underway and teachers, students, and staff are settling into their new routines, educators have a responsibility to foster a proactive healthy awareness of school safety. From my years working in security and emergency management, particularly my years in the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, I have developed a quick back-to-school safety checklist. These are the first-five items we tackle at the beginning of every school year.
I hope they are helpful to you, as teachers, staff, and administrators, in setting the tone for the new year. And if any parents or students are reading this, I encourage you to share it with your school. I wish you all a productive, smart, fun, and safe school year.
- As soon as you can (as close to the first day as you can make it), every student needs to be taught what your emergency protocols are in the school. What is lockdown? Where is the evacuation area? What is expected? And if you are in a school where students change classes, you should review exits and protocols in every class as circumstances may change depending on the physical layout.
- Reconnect with your Police and Fire Department to talk strategy and expectations during emergencies. While you are at it, find a time for your local emergency management personnel to talk to the rest of the school and parent community, too.
- Challenge students to find one act of random kindness they can do. When you see something positive, find a way to reward them or lift their actions up. This sets the tone for a supportive and inclusive environment, which not only promotes learning, it makes our schools safer, too.
- Double check that every classroom is clearly numbered on the inside and outside. If you know where you, then first responders will more easily know how to get to you. Make sure you have a “go” bag of supplies in case you need to evacuate quickly. It’s also a good idea to restock some supplies in the unlikely event you need to shelter in place.
- Schedule – and then conduct – a lockdown drill in the first month of the school year. Take your time and do it right. Stop timing the drill. Use the time to train for success and survival. This is about your life and the life of students and staff. Make it count.
Hear more from John about his experiences in this video interview.
One of the key takeaways from the 2018 State of School Safety Report illustrates a lack of communication and misunderstanding about school safety among parents, students, and educators.
Safe and Sound Schools is addressing this need with some quick, simple ideas for how parents can get more involved. We hope you can use these ideas as a start in your community.
1. Form a Parent Safety Team within your school community. This could be the organizing body for safety activities and communications throughout the year. You can also tap into the Safety Team to have discussions with leaders and administrators to share the programs and resources from Safe and Sound Schools. Another idea is to bring administrators the State of School Safety Report to learn about how your school compares to our findings.
2. Conduct a Survey in Your Community. This will help your school community get a better sense of what concerns they have, as well as what assets already exist. Perhaps you have a parent who is also a public safety officer, or another who is a mental health expert, or one who has been studying the influence of media on our youth. You might find some real gems and people who can enrich your community’s knowledge.
3. Fundraise for Safety. One way to help fund subject matter expert presentations and workshops, and safety improvements is to tap into the power of parent networks for fundraising. Asking friends, family members, and neighbors to support school safety for your children will help defray costs while having a tangible benefit to the community. Have a bake sale or lemonade stand, run a “Change for School Safety” collection drive, start a GoFundMe page, sell tickets to a talent show, or even hold a silent auction. A little bit spread over a broad network will go a long way.
4. Organize Volunteers. Launch a volunteer program at your school designed to have more adults on hand during busy moments such as arrival, dismissal, or lunchtime. Make an effort to get as many parents CORI-certified as possible to strengthen your volunteer force.
5. Tip Reporting. Check in with your school to see if they have an anonymous tip-reporting system. Help them promote the tool through posters, announcements, and even guest speakers. If they don’t have a system, help them get one. Giving students, staff, teachers and administrators a safe way to report concerns will increase the likelihood of stopping a security threat before it starts.
School safety isn’t one person’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of every school community member. As parents, we should have a seat at the table and play an active, present role in ensuring the safety of our students. For more ideas, visit our Parents for Safe Schools page.
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
By: Leslie Lagerstrom & Todd A. Savage, Ph.D., NCSP
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. School staff and school-based mental health professionals work every day to support the mental health, physical, and psychological safety of all children and youth in school, particularly students who are bullied ostracized, isolated or who lack social support at school, at home, or in the community.
Transgender and other gender-diverse students, even those who demonstrate strong resiliency skills are particularly vulnerable for poor mental health outcomes due to these and other factors. Strong home-school collaboration and partnerships can bolster transgender and other gender-diverse students’ mental health, which increases their ability to perform successfully in academics and beyond; consider one family’s story.
Sam was 10 years old the first time we discovered he was exploring ways to commit suicide. Ten years old. I remember the terror that ran down my spine that day when we learned he wanted to end his life. What I thought was just another Wednesday, turned out to be the day my son’s classmates broke his spirit.
As a transgender youth, Sam suffered from daily incidents of bullying and harassment, and this day was no exception. Boarding the bus that morning, he was greeted with the usual shuffling of backpacks and kids quickly moving from one seat to another so that he could not sit next to them. The first whispers, stares and laughs of the day began on that bus as he self-consciously walked down the narrow aisle looking for a seat.
At school, the bullying ramped up…loud whispers in the halls that were meant to be heard; giggles during roll call when the teacher read the name ‘Samuel’ for the child that was once known as Samantha; body language intended to intimidate; and classmates calling Sam ‘It’ under the direction of their parents, because Sam was not conforming to their understanding of gender.
In science class Sam’s stomach filled with butterflies when he heard the teacher say, “Pick a lab partner.” He already knew how this scene would end because he had been there too many times before, standing awkwardly alone while his classmates eagerly rearranged their chairs, to partner with their pals. Sam was once again the odd man out because nobody wanted to be paired with that kid who “…used to be a girl.”
Lunch was spent alone in an alcove in the basement. This was his safe space where he ate alone each day because he was afraid to walk through the school lunchroom. By afternoon he needed to use a restroom but there were none that were safe and so he decided to hold it, just like he had done for the last 45 school days, even when this practice resulted in chronic bladder infections. The last hour of the day he had gym class, where he was taunted for standing with the boys when the teacher instructed the class to line up by gender. His day was spent trying to avoid one form of mental abuse after another, but at the age of 10 he was not yet equipped to protect himself from emotional harm. His spirit broken, he decided he had had enough.
Luckily for our family, we were able to mitigate some of the pain his classmates inflicted that day – enough that he stopped thinking about harming himself for a while. Sadly, this is what an average day looks like for many transgender and gender diverse kids.
I share Sam’s experience with you to illustrate the type of behavior that threatens the mental health of countless students every single day. Disrespectful behavior that is always at someone else’s expense, the cost of which, istoo high for any child or family to pay. In extreme cases the consequences culminate in violence, while in other incidences children choose to harm themselves or simply sink into a pit of despair and depression.
As the mom of a transgender child that has walked alongside him through the psychological mine fields created by his classmates, I know the mental toll they have taken. At home we coach him to focus on the positive, but human nature sneaks in on particularly bad days, only allowing him to remember the hurt. When you think about it, schools go to great lengths to ensure the physical well-being of students, but the same cannot be said for their mental health. I truly believe that not until our schools care equally about their students’ physical and mental well-being, will our children be safe and sound in the classroom.
Leslie Lagerstrom is the creator of the blog Transparenthood™, which chronicles her family’s experience raising a transgender child. She is a contributor to The Huffington Post and her essays can be found in two anthologies, Mamas Write and Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God. Committed to spreading awareness on the subject of transgender children, Leslie frequently shares her family’s story, speaking in front of audiences across the nation.
Todd A. Savage, Ph.D., NCSP, is a professor in the school psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF); he is also a past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Dr. Savage’s scholarly research interests include culturally-responsive practice; social justice; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in education; and school safety and crisis prevention, preparedness, and intervention. He has conducted numerous professional development workshops on gender diversity in schools for administrators, teachers, school-based mental health professionals, and staff members locally, regionally, and nationally throughout the past five years.