Q: I’m concerned about visitor management protocols at my child’s school. Yesterday, I went to pick my child up from school early. No one asked me to identify myself. Surprised, I asked them if they needed to see ID. Although they looked at my ID, they didn’t verify whether I was one of the people authorized to pick up my child from school. What can I do to make sure the school is verifying visitors and asking for identification?
A: Most schools at least require that visitors sign in and present ID in this situation. Others take it a step further and verify your information with their records. Still others, utilize “visitor management” technology to scan and even run a visitor’s ID through a database, which then supplies a badge or pass, if the visitor is approved.
I recommend reaching out to the principal to share your experience (I am sure he/she will want to know) and reinforce your expectation for your child’s safety. It could be that there is not an established protocol in place. Unfortunately, lots of school communities feel that they don’t need to worry about this. If this is the case, you might offer to help them think it through and toward a safer solution. It could also be that the office staff was busy or you were dealing with a substitute. Either way, it’s important to figure out what is at the root of this safety issue. If your daughter’s school has a school resource officer or police liaison, I would ask that that person join the conversation as well. It is not easy to have to approach your child’s school about a problem you have found, but if you are able to come forward positively and ready to help, as well as firm about your expectation, you are likely to have success.
Other resources you can reach out to in the school are the school counselor, and of course, your child’s teacher. It may also be helpful to discuss this with other parents and/or members of the PTA/O. I applaud you for speaking up in the moment, asking, “Don’t you need to see my ID?” With this simple action, you communicated your expectation and actually changed the action of the staff member. You are already moving things in a safer direction. There is no firm requirement for schools to develop and implement visitor management protocols at this point. It’s up to us to speak up and change that. Please keep us posted on your progress and be ready to stick with it until you feel that your child is safe.
– Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Update: Since the parent’s meeting with the principal, the school has improved their process, making sure school members are aware of new greeting and visitor management protocols. Visitors are now required to provide ID and share their visitation purpose. There is a sign posted on the door to remind visitors not to hold the door open for others. School members are required to verify whether visitors are authorized to pick up the child.
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Celebrated every March, Social Work Month recognizes and highlights the significant contributions of social workers. With approximately 600,000 social workers in the United States, roughly five percent are school social workers. Although this percentage may seem small, school social workers serve as an important liaison between school, home, and the community.
Social workers are tasked with finding solutions to the some of the most challenging issues that individuals, families, and communities experience. In helping individuals and families overcome difficulties and reach full potential, social workers help make our nation a safer place. Likewise, school social workers focus on helping students reach their full potential in order to support academic success.
According the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “[school social workers] work directly with school administrations as well as students and families, providing leadership in forming school discipline policies, mental health intervention, crisis management, and support services.” To give you a better idea, school social workers form part of an interdisciplinary team to assist in mitigating and addressing topics like:
- School violence and aggression
- Traumatic events
- Policy development and reform
- Substance abuse education
- Suicide prevention
- Attendance among at-risk students
- Students with special needs or learning disabilities
With many factors impacting academic progress, such as poverty, substance abuse, family conflict, community violence, and mental health, school social workers are among the best equipped school community leaders. From designing preventative programs to providing psychological and emotional support, social workers are experts at intervention, prevention and education. Through supportive services and cross collaboration, school social workers are an integral part of the school community.
So in honor of Social Work Month, we’d like tip our hats to school social workers. Thank you for keeping students safe and advocating for student success.
If you’d like to help us celebrate Social Work Month, nominate a social worker as a Safe and Sound Hero. Share your nominees by providing us with the following:
- Brief explanation of why your social worker should be a SASS Hero and how they keep you safe
- Name, school or community affiliation, and a picture, if possible, so we can give them a shout out on our social our social media channels
We’ll share their stories on our social media platforms. You can also nominate a group of social workers. Share your nominees by tagging us on social media and including the hashtag #SASSHero or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for helping us celebrate social workers this month.
References: National Association of Social Workers
Everyone wants the schools in their community to be safe. We can all agree on this. Yet, safety is often taken for granted. For decades, schools were considered a safe haven where caring teachers taught and young children learned. Even when circumstances in the world outside were chaotic, schools were a safe place.
The times have changed.
The good news is that schools are responding to today’s safety and security challenges.
Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, almost 90% of school districts have made changes to their facilities or security policies to make schools safer. In 2016 alone, $2.7 billion was spent on school security systems. In 2017, that number will jump to almost $5 billion. As a result of these changes made by school districts, technologies are emerging to help schools with their mission of keeping schools safe.
Districts need to work with not only industry experts but also other districts to stay up to date on what technologies are working best for other school districts and what will work best for them. Each district needs to assess its specific risks, and then determine which technologies will best meet its needs.
Some technologies Districts should consider when assessing their schools:
- Access controls: 93% of schools control access to their buildings during school hours, including locking and monitoring entrances. Except for the main entrance, doors should not be accessible from the outside. Today, technology allows schools the ability to secure their main entrance with a camera, intercom, and buzzer controlled door.
- Visitor management systems: While many schools require visitors to sign in at the front desk, 80% of schools still use pen and paper to track visitors. A visitor management system lets administrators know who is in the building, why they are there and if they belong in the school.
- Security cameras: Over 90% of K-12 schools report having security cameras and video surveillance equipment installed on campuses. Half of the schools without security cameras plan to purchase cameras within the next three years. Video surveillance equipment is used at school entrances as a part of a controlled access system as well as throughout campuses to monitor everything from theft to violent behavior.
- Emergency management systems: Almost all schools have a written plan in place in the event of an emergency. Students and staff participate in everything from fire drills to active shooter scenarios. In 2017, Districts need to consider emergency management systems which will increasingly replace paper plans. Emerging technology in this space includes emergency management mobile applications that handle everything from emergency procedures and building plans to reunification.
Like most areas of our lives today, technology can help but only if you know what works best for you. If your district or school has not conducted a risk assessment regarding emergencies, consider doing so as soon as possible. The next steps are to implement standard procedures for all buildings and technologies that help you secure your campuses. Above all else, schools need to be safe, secure places where students can learn.
Dan Trepanier serves as an Advisory Board Member for Safe and Sound Schools and Vice President of Sales & Marketing of Raptor Technologies, a national leader in K-12 Integrated School Safety Technologies. Dan is passionate about keeping schools safe and works with national safety organizations and in schools across the country for safer schools.
CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of the Joplin, MO Schools, shares Part 2 of his blog series on building relationships in the school community, focused on reaching outside the school to strengthen our schools. Click here to review part 1.
Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to work with community partners in a variety of capacities. I have also learned that among school districts, buildings, and classrooms, school/community partnerships range from open door to appointment only. No question–there has to be a balance–but I believe it is important to err on the side of inclusiveness whenever possible.
Schools give many reasons for keeping the community at arms length. Security, fear the school day will be disrupted, legal liability, and concerns about confidentiality are often at the top of the list. Each of these issues is legitimate, but not insurmountable. Developing well-defined parameters for community involvement are important. But it is also important to keep in mind that there are many wonderful people in your community wanting to help, if given the opportunity.
A mistake schools often make is asking for support (usually financial) only when we need it. There have been few times in my career that a local business or organization didn’t step up and help during those times. However, the message we are sending can easily be interpreted as, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
There are many benefits of engaging the community in the schools. At a site level, new resources are brought to the table. When parents, educators, businesses, human service agencies, and churches (Yes…they can be involved too AND it is legal.) sit down together at the same table to talk about kids, good things happen. A few thoughts to consider…
- The Sleeping Giant: Faith-based organizations are mission driven and full of individuals who are seeking ways to give back to the community. Does this mean they will be preaching to the kids at school. No. That isn’t legal. But as a local minister in Joplin put it, “We know we can’t be the voice of God in our schools, but we can be the hands and feet of God by supporting our children and educators.” I often refer to faith communities as “The Sleeping Giant.” When given the opportunity they will respond quickly to the needs of the school. No questions asked.
- Treasure: I learned quickly that treasure doesn’t necessarily mean monetary resources. In fact, some of the best “treasures” that have been brought to the table are not monetary. Volunteers knitting stocking caps for needy kids in preparation for the winter, organizations donating school supplies, service organizations taking on special projects – the list goes on. The point is that there are many giving hearts in your community with treasures to offer. Although it doesn’t look like cash, these treasures are priceless.
- Advocacy: Community complacency towards our schools has come about as a result of decades of schools pulling down the blinds and shutting the doors. Unfortunately, when our doors are closed and our windows are covered, others can’t see the good things happening in our schools, or spot challenges and potential solutions. I would ask you to think on this for a second. How might the tides turn if members of your community could see—and be a part of–the good work in your schools? What would happen if in your community you had dozens or even hundreds of volunteers working in different capacities supporting your children and the good work of educators?
Ultimately the purpose of opening the doors of our schools is to move our communities from complacency to action and from action to advocacy. In this era of limited resources and high accountability, I’d encourage educators and school leaders to take that first step and open the doors…even if it is just a crack. You might be surprised to find who is waiting for you on the other side of the door ready to help.
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.