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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 

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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