America’s Safe Schools Week is October 17-23. To honor America’s Safe Schools Week all month, Raptor Technologies® is sharing some of the best practices we have compiled from our 32,000 K-12 clients and nearly 20 years of experience as a school safety partner. This series of 4 articles highlights drills, emergency response, parent-student reunification, and more.
Many people often think of parent-student reunification as an outcome to a school tragedy, but there are many reasons your school may need to evacuate: a gas leak, fire, weather, bomb threat, and acts of violence are just a few. An evacuation, especially one due to an extreme crisis, can cause physical reactions and strong emotions like terror, fear, and helplessness. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, the more time it takes to reunify a student with their parent or guardian, the more likely they are to suffer from traumatic stress, which can trigger reactions like anxiety, behavioral changes, and drug or alcohol usage that can have long-term effects on their daily lives.
To ensure that students are safely transferred from the district’s care to that of a guardian, schools should consider these top best practices.
Develop a Reunification Procedure
Florida requires K-12 public schools to establish emergency management and preparedness procedures, which should include a reunification plan. A robust plan discusses every component of parent-student reunification, including but not limited to:
- your reunification teams and their roles and responsibilities
- the reunification site location and staging
- your plan to transport students, staff, and emergency supplies to the site
- the involvement of law enforcement and mental health professionals
- how you will confirm students are reunified with approved guardians
More information on how to develop a reunification process based on industry-leading best practices can be found here.
Leverage Technology to Streamline Reunification
Coordinating student status, location, and reunification with authorized guardians can be complicated, but schools can streamline the process with proven technology.
Knowing student status—including if the student is accounted for, missing, or injured—is critical, but this information can easily be lost in the chaos of a reunification that relies on pen-and-paper methods. Best practice is to give teachers, staff, first responders, and incident commanders instant access to real-time student data, status, and location. When a guardian checks into the reunification site, the greeter can quickly confirm that the student is safely at the site, and therefore, know to continue the reunification process. If a student is marked missing, on the other hand, the greeter will immediately know to escort the guardian to a private waiting area for further information.
It’s also imperative that personnel can accurately confirm the guardian’s ID, check for sex offender status and custodial restrictions, and capture their signature at reunification. This eliminates inaccuracy, reduces liability, and ensures students are only reunified with approved guardians.
Regularly Practice Your Plan
Practicing your reunification plan, whether through drills or realistic, full-scale exercises, helps train your school community on what to do in an actual crisis as well as reveal areas of improvement.
Seminole County Public Schools ran a full-scale exercise to test their plan. The exercise went well, partly because the district leveraged technology to streamline the process. “The [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] Commission surveyed different sized districts’ reunification policies and plans, and we were one of the few that not only had a plan in place, but we had a proven system that we’d actually practiced,” says School Safety Lieutenant Kelly Martin. “When the commission reviewed survey results, it described Seminole County as a ‘model’ for other Florida districts to emulate.”
As you are developing or reviewing your reunification protocols, consider how technology can help streamline your process and eliminate inaccuracy. The most advanced reunification solutions—like the one Seminole County uses—are tested and part of a comprehensive emergency management platform that gives schools a full line of sight to everyone and every incident.