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
Summer is here, school is out, and many of us are left with newfound free time. Many of us may find ourselves vacationing with our friends and family, but for those of us who work in school communities, summer is also a time to plan and learn. Here are 5 ways you can continue to improve school safety this summer:
1) Assess, Act, and Audit. To assess, act, and audit, download the Straight-A Safety Toolkit for free to begin taking steps toward rethinking and improving school safety in your school community. Our free toolkits are designed to facilitate conversations, problem-solving, and partnerships in your school community. Learn about threats, components to an assessment, strategies, security oversights, layers of security, and more. You’ll also have access to activities, drills, and other exercises. Use the summer to evaluate where your school stands on the safety spectrum and take steps toward improving plans and practices for the new school year.
2) Attend a school safety or security conference. Safety and security conferences are great educational opportunities, capable of providing you with new perspectives, ideas, and approaches to school safety. In addition to to educational opportunities like workshops and presentations, conferences also facilitate networking opportunities with other individuals in the field. Meet the experts, network with peers, and consider visiting some of the vendors to learn more about security solutions. You’ll not only be investing in your career development but you’ll also be able to bring new ideas to the table when the school year begins. Interested in seeing our co-founder Michele Gay speak? She’ll be at the Campus Safety Conference this month. Learn more here.
3) Hold a staff training or workshop. Invite a Safe and Sound Speaker to your summer safety affair. From mental health, to bullying prevention, to social emotional learning, to reunification and recovery, Safe and Sound Schools has speakers that will work with your team to educate and bring new perspectives and ideas. As an exciting side note, we are in process of updating our Speaker’s Bureau with more speakers! If there is a topic you’d like to see, please share your feedback with us.
4) Build relationships. Summer is a perfect time to mix and mingle and bring school safety stakeholders together. Help first responders, school resource officers, and other safety teams get to know each other. This can be an informal luncheon for safety stakeholders, combining the laid back and social aspect of summer with discussion, collaboration and planning for the new school year.
5) Update ICE cards. It only takes a couple minutes. Print or make a new “in case of an emergency” card and fill in current contact information. Make sure to include a primary contact, a secondary contact, and an out-of-town contact for your student. You can also include other important details like medical conditions and allergies. Make at least two copies, one for students to keep in their backpack/wallet and another to share with their teacher/school. And while we tend to think of ICE cards as a resource for students, teachers can also benefit from having one of their own. Include an emergency contact, the principal’s phone number, a local police number, and a doctor’s name and phone number. Other details like allergies and medical conditions can also be included. And since we live in a time where some of us have ditched paper and embraced technology, don’t forget that smart phones also allow us to store and share ICE information on our mobile devices. Make sure to update those too.
If you have any other suggestions on how school communities can continue to improve school safety over the summer, feel free to share your ideas with our community by commenting below, connecting with us on social media, or sending us an email. Don’t forget to subscribe if you’d like to see more content like this. Here’s to a safe, fun, and productive rest of your summer!
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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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.
Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.
As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate. They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.
Unfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate. In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.
1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.
2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.
3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life. As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.
4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.
5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.
We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.
Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists
Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists
Don Bridges (left), president of the National Association of School Resource Officers is pictured with Michele Gay, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools, at the Campus Safety East Conference in Washington, D.C.
Safe and Sound Schools is honored to partner with Campus Safety Magazine as a proud sponsor of the Third Annual Campus Safety Conferences in the East and West.
The Campus Safety East Conference kicked off in Washington, D.C. on July 25-26. The Safe and Sound Schools team was in attendance.
About the Conferences
The Campus Safety Conferences bring together industry thought leaders and solution providers. Education and training workshops cover a wide range of topics including emergency preparedness, threat assessment, crisis communication, sexual assault, social media monitoring, mental health, and more. Presenters offer best practices, drawing on real experiences, events, and current safety concerns. In addition to attending conference sessions, attendees have the opportunity to participate in hot topic discussions and meet with companies showcasing safety and security products, services and technologies.
Attend the Campus Safety West Conference
It’s not too late to mix and mingle with school safety experts and industry colleagues. The Campus Safety Conferences offer a great opportunity for attendees to hear from a variety perspectives. Interested folks can still sign up for the Campus Safety West Conference, in Long Beach, California, taking place this August 9-10.
As with the Campus Safety East Conference, our team will also be attending the Campus Safety West Conference. Stop by our booth and use the hashtag #CSWest16 so we can learn about your experience.