The unfortunate reality is that violent incidents can happen at any time and anywhere. No school or person is immune to experiencing the devastation that some of our nation’s schools, staff, students, parents, and communities have already experienced.
Schools cannot, nor should they, develop a school safety approach in a silo. They need to proactively involve everyone in their school community—staff, students, parents, law enforcement, to name a few—to understand their perceptions, incorporate their feedback, and create a plan. This collaboration will help build better, comprehensive protocols, as well as create confidence in your community that your school is prepared for any incident.
Now is the time, especially as experts warn we will see an increase in violence as students return to the classroom, to make sure that everyone in your school community has a voice. In this blog, we focus on collaborating with parents and students. Additional resources for collaborating with other stakeholders is provided at the end.
Collaborating With Parents and Guardians
“Only through listening to our stakeholders can we gain a better understanding of their perceptions, and then work to correct or strengthen them. In turn, we can increase our overall preparedness and ability to respond to a variety of safety threats.”
Elizabeth Brown, Principal, FL
The 2021 State of School Safety Report, developed by Safe and Sound Schools and Raptor Technologies, revealed significant gaps in what school staff and parents/guardians feel about school safety. While nearly 70% of school administrators think their school has a strong sense of security, the survey found that half of parents feel that their child’s school has a false sense of security, and 30% think their school is not prepared to handle an array of safety issues.
Additionally, 35% of parents say their school does not take a proactive approach to safety awareness, while nearly 100% of school staff believe they are proactive. The report also shows an alarming percentage of parents—over 50%—do not know what to do to be safely reunited with their child(ren) after an incident.
Although most parents recognize that their school has adequate measures in place, it’s evident that parents feel disconnected from the school’s safety policies and procedures. The survey also revealed that 40% of parents think their school doesn’t value the feedback they provide. Schools need to change this. They need to educate parents and remind them of the safety policies, as well as give listen to the parent’s feedback on ways to improve school safety.
You can accomplish this by inviting parents to speak to administrators, or if applicable, your PTA. You can send surveys to parents to ask for their suggestions and involve parents in your exercises and drills. When we think about a parent’s role in parent-student reunification, for example, it’s critical that they understand their responsibilities. If they don’t know the process, your reunification will be more chaotic and stressful than it needs to be.
Collaborating With Students
“Students are the eyes and ears of the school, and not just during the school day. We know about things that affect school life, 24/7, even when they occur outside of school hours or off school premises.”
Camden Larsen, Student Leader, SD
Overall, 75% of students say they feel safe at school, almost 100% think their school has a strong sense of community, and 81% say they know what to do in an emergency at school.
Nearly 100% believe their school has adequate safety measures in place.
But when asked if they feel their school has a false sense of safety, 25% of students agreed. Additionally, 44% say their school does not have a proactive approach to safety awareness, and 50% claim they do not know how to be reunited with their parents after an emergency.
Nearly 25% of students say their school is not prepared to respond to an active shooter, and about 20% feel their school is not ready to handle an intruder or unauthorized visitor.
More alarming survey results: 40% of students think their school is not able to address violence, 75% of students think their school is not prepared for a bomb threat, and half of students think their school is not prepared for severe weather events.
Schools must take these results into consideration, as well as acknowledge how students have changed this past year. “During the pandemic, students found their voices more than ever,” Paul Timm, Vice President of Facility Engineering Associates, P.C., stated on an episode of School Safety Today. “This is the time to make sure students have a voice.”
One way to encourage this is to ask students how they feel about the various drills and exercises your school conducts. Allow them to debrief with their teachers and peers immediately after a drill—and take their feedback seriously. Incorporate what you learn from them into your emergency operations plan (EOP) as applicable.
Schools should also ask students how they feel about school safety in general, such as what threats they are most concerned about and how they think the school should be proactive in their response.
Note that although it is imperative to receive feedback from students and parents/guardians, it is up to the school and the appropriate stakeholders to create an EOP that is best aligned to your specific needs.
For successful emergency response and recovery—and just general school safety—everyone in the school (and even those outside of it, such as first responders) need to understand what the school is doing to stay safe, prevent incidents, and respond when one occurs. It’s also critical that they understand their roles in the policies and procedures.
This requires the school to involve these stakeholders in school safety discussions, drills, and exercises. Best practices, along those mentioned above, include:
- Creating intentional relationships with first responders and law enforcement
- Collaborating with mental health professionals and providing adequate resources to students and staff
- Providing age-appropriate active shooter training in collaboration with industry leaders
For more best practices and to stay updated on the latest school safety news, subscribe to Raptor’s podcast, School Safety Today or contact us to learn how Raptor can help you build and maintain a safer school.