Top 3 Things Schools Should Prioritize as They Reopen

3 Things Schools Should Prioritize as They Reopen

Paul Timm, board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and nationally acclaimed school safety expert, recently spoke with Raptor about the top 3 things schools should focus on this back-to-school. These priorities include collaborating with your school community, ensuring everyone is aware of your safety policies, and involving students in your discussions.  

Below is a summary of our conversation. You can watch the full webinar, School Safety Priorities to Address for Reopening, on-demand here 

1: Collaboration 

Students, parents, and staff should be involved in school safety conversations. Nearly 40% of parents think their school does not value their feedback, so it’s important that schools genuinely listen and consider their ideas and concerns. Open communication is just as important. Especially during COVID-19, as health official guidance continues to change, schools need to clearly communicate policy changes and the reasoning behind them.  

These conversations may stop you from making dangerous decisions. As Paul points out, “This is not the time to compromise security,” but many schools are doing just that. An example is propping exterior doors open for better ventilation in the hallways. A teacher may not think twice about this until they learn from other stakeholders just how risky it is. Leaving doors open makes it too easy for a threatening intruder to gain access, not to mention the critical concern of how long it would take to manually shut the doors if the school needed to lockdown.  

Collaboration and communication will build trust throughout your community, while letting you learn from different perspectives and align with best safety practices.  

2: Awareness 

“We have had staff members who are willing to trade security for convenience,” Paul warns as he recalls stories about staff not following even the simplest protocols, like wearing their lanyards/badges correctly. 

Brief safety talks at each staff meeting can help change this and influence the school’s safety culture. These short discussions help staff become more aware of threats and hazards and ultimately better protect the school. The discussions can be centered around a certain safety topic—how the school will respond to severe weather, for example—or something more general, such as having a student talk about dangerous social media trends. 

Practicing emergency response through drills and exercises is  an important aspect to creating awareness. Along with the mandated drills, Paul recommends a ‘stop and think drill.’ This drill should be conducted outside of class hours—perhaps during arrival or lunch—when people are dispersed. This forces everyone to critically think about their surroundings and what options they have to get to safety.  

Creating awareness also involves school leaders knowing what skills their team has. A quick method of gaining this intel is requesting staff to complete a Staff Skills Survey. This is typically a one-page document that asks about training, skills, and aptitudes. Schools may discover staff who have military or law enforcement backgrounds, or who are bilingual or have CPR certifications. The survey results will help the school better assign staff to emergency roles and teams.  

3: Student Involvement 

Students, especially those in middle and high school, are “ahead of [adults] in technology and social media, and they have a much better pulse of what’s going on in the student body,” Paul says. He encourages schools to involve students in safety discussions—ask them specifically to contribute to the topic—and work together to find solutions to any problems.  

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy in 2018, students around the nation led a National School Walkout protest. While some schools tried to stop the walkout, others were more progressive. Paul recalls a school that listened to its students, and together they determined a path forward: a local official gave a school-wide presentation on how the government and the schools are actively working to improve school safety. 

Paul commends this, saying, “This was an act of ‘let’s work together in moving forward.’” 

Aligning with Best Practices 

“As we talk about school safety and security, we want to learn lessons that were presented to us last year,” Paul says. “We want to think about how [these lessons learned] can impact us and improve the safety of the learning environment as we move into this school year.” 

One of the lessons learned focused on access control and visitor management. Previously, some schools would give staff 24/7 access to buildings. It wasn’t until COVID-19 that these schools realized how critical visitor management is to screen and track all entrants, reduce the virus’s spread, and promptly facilitate contact tracing when needed.  

The impacts of the pandemic have also increased schools’ needs for emergency management systems, as experts warn we will see an increase in violence as schools reopen. Best practice is for teachers, staff, and SROs to have a mobile panic button that they can initiate from wherever they are located. The panic button should integrate with a complete emergency management system that also empowers schools to account for everyone on campus and reunify students with approved guardians.   

Raptor, partnered with over 35,000 K-12 U.S. schools, provides fully integrated visitor, volunteer, and emergency management systems to protect schools from any threat. To learn more about Raptor, contact us today.