12 School Safety Tips for Administrators
Unsafe incidents, including school violence, can occur any time and in any building. Schools must be prepared to respond swiftly, according to carefully designed protocols, to protect students and staff members. Schools should be – and generally are – safe places for students, teachers, and visitors. Among their myriad duties, administrators strive to make their schools safe learning centers for every student.
Violence such as the active shooter incidents in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, and Texas a can dramatically upset school communities, even when such incidents are hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Students as well as adults have difficulty understanding why such events happen and even whether they can be prevented. School administrators can provide reassuring leadership for students, staff, and parents by reminding everyone – including the media – that schools are very safe places for students and that significant school safety protocols and student supports are already in place on their campuses.
Physical school safety & a healthy learning environment
It is important to mention the necessary balance between the need for physical school safety and providing students a healthy, nurturing, “normal” school environment. Administrators can reinforce the importance to school safety of fostering a caring school and student community in which both adults and students respect and trust each other and one in which all students feel connected, understand expectations, and receive the behavioral and mental health support they need.
Specific school safety information disseminated to students should be entirely governed by individual student developmental age, relationship or proximity to the event, and need to know. The objective of such information is to reassure students that although there is always a possibility of a violent incident occurring in or near a school, the likelihood of a particular school experiencing a significant violent incident is extremely rare.
Encourage the parent-student safety talk
Encourage parents to speak with their own children about school safety. They should address their children’s questions but be judicious regarding how much information or detail to provide. Parents should be open to conversations when their children are ready, be honest about their own feelings regarding school safety, and focus on the specific things that their child, family, and school can do to stay safe. They should be watchful for signs of undue stress in their own children, e.g., behavioral changes, anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, misbehavior, or sudden academic problems. Remind parents to filter or at least remain aware of their children’s exposure to negative stories of school safety in the media. Limit television viewing generally, but particularly for younger children. Developmentally inappropriate information can increase anxiety or confusion. Adults should be conscious of the effect their own conversations can have in front of children, including older children and teens, and avoid angry comments that might be misinterpreted.
Below we’ve listed 12 key concepts for helping school administrators ensure high levels of school safety.
1. Prioritize school access control procedures
Make campus access control policies and procedures your highest school safety priority; these formal procedures must be put in place and used every day to create your first line of defense. The concept may seem overly simple, but by prioritizing school access control procedures, you send a message to staff, parents, students, and visitors that campus safety is integral to the life of the school.
2. Frequently audit badge and key access
Conduct frequent badge and key audits – a minimum of every school year and preferably every semester – to account for all access credentials. Persons in unauthorized possession of district keys or badges, credentials that could fall into the wrong hands, represent a significant school safety risk. Once old badges are turned in, destroy them to protect against their being used falsely.
3. Enforce district ID policies
Strictly enforce district ID policies and protocols — all personnel other than students must be badged so staff can easily recognize their authorization to be in the building and aid in the enforcement of school safety protocols. Again, destroy all old or obsolete badges in order to maintain a consistent ID policy.
4. Encourage a “see something, say something” environment
Train staff on the “see something, say something” school safety concept — if staff see something unusual, they should report it immediately to an administrator. Extend the policy to students. Emphasize their role in helping to protect themselves as well as their peers. Build a school safety culture. Students and staff must be aware of what is happening around them. Is anyone acting strangely? Is the “feeling” of the school positive? Does everything seem normal? What might be going on that should be addressed?
5. Empower students to build and maintain a culture of safety
Encourage students to become school safety advocates. School safety issues—especially following the events in Parkland, Florida—have energized many students across the U.S. High school voter registration drives and organized student safety conferences can empower students to help build and maintain a culture of safety. While administrators cannot and should not make policy decisions based entirely on student opinion or emotion, it is important to listen to student concerns and to maintain clear and open communications.
6. Establish student faculty relationship building programs
Every student should have access to at least one adult in school with whom he or she feels comfortable enough to approach in a time of need. This person can be a teacher, staff member, coach, or administrator, but schools have a responsibility and obligation to systematically make sure that each child has such a connection, something beyond Relationships with his or her peers. Schools should communicate the importance of such a relationship to students and families. Mentorship programs for academic purposes are increasingly common. Similar programs for emotional support can further increase the school’s safety culture.
7. Designate specific safe havens in your safety plans
Put in place specific plans for each teacher to protect students in the event of a threat, with designated specific “safe haven” areas – such as a storage closet or faculty office area – that students and staff can easily secure against an imminent school safety threat. Classroom doors that can be locked from the inside add an extra layer of protection and facilitate the creation of such safe havens.
8. Develop a tip channel
Develop text message or phone tip contact channels and encourage students, parents, and staff to report all potential credible school safety threats immediately. The small risk of one or two false alarms far outweighs the potential recriminations following a warning that was not acted upon.
9. Encourage security personnel to build personal relationships with the community
Embrace and encourage law enforcement/security personnel engaging in community policing efforts to develop rapport with students, parents, and district and campus staff members. Frequent visible presence of law enforcement/security personnel on campus creates and reinforces an atmosphere of school safety. Continuous presence coupled with daily interaction with students and staff will foster a feeling of “normality” regarding active school safety.
10. Apprise security personnel of all incidents regarding staff
Apprise security personnel and/or law enforcement of any potentially concerning employee counseling or termination issues. Respect individual privacy guidelines but give security and law enforcement a heads-up if there is a history of confrontational behavior and a potential for negative impact on school safety.
11. Discuss all sensitive issues privately
Always conduct such counseling or termination notification conversations with security and/or law enforcement officers confidentially and behind closed doors. Similarly, discuss any sensitive issues with students, parents, or employees in private with video monitoring and available panic alarms whenever possible to preserve consistent levels of school safety.
12. Always review with your staff
Hold regular, thorough school safety reviews with both the administrative staff as well as the general staff. Include parent and student leadership in such review efforts when appropriate.