Before schools return to in-person learning, they must reevaluate their school safety plans. COVID-19 has left many students dealing with trauma from losing loved ones and/or being isolated throughout the pandemic. Experts say this trauma may lead to an increase in violence and behavioral incidents as students navigate through new emotions and stressors.
Paul Timm, Vice President of Facility Engineering Associates, P.C., recently shared his insights into how the school safety landscape has changed and what schools can do to keep their students, staff, and communities safe beyond the pandemic.
A summary of the conversation is below. Listen to the full episode of our podcast, School Safety & Security Considerations to Ensure a Safe Reopening.
Changes in School Safety
Schools quickly realized the importance of having electronic access control and school visitor management software. “There were some schools pre-pandemic that were giving staff 24/7 access to the facility through any door… As you can imagine, that left people in the building sometimes at 2:00 in the morning when no one else was there,” Paul shares. COVID-19 encouraged schools to implement access restrictions and better control who was entering their facilities and when.
Access control and visitor management systems also helped schools with contact tracing. “If a custodian came into the building and later tested positive, we needed to know where that person was so we could sanitize,” Paul shares. “We were able to do that through visitor management systems and video surveillance. Now all those things are in place… so we are able to do contact tracing for very practical purposes [going forward], not just for health reasons.”
The Importance of School Safety
This is the time to analyze your school safety processes and solutions to understand what you currently have in place and how you can improve before the start of the school year. Paul suggests schools start with a school safety assessment and updating their Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).
“During the pandemic, students found their voices more than ever,” he states. Schools must acknowledge how students have changed and give them the opportunities to share their feedback on school safety policies. Schools should then adjust the protocols based on this feedback. “This is the time to make sure students have a voice,” he concludes.
Pandemic Impacts on Students and Staff
“We don’t know for sure what the long-term effects will be for the isolation and restrictions that we’ve faced,” Paul shares. However, based on research from other similar incidents, experts agree that we will see negative consequences. Schools need social workers and mental health experts who will continue to put social, emotional, and mental health services at the forefront.
Returning to school, especially for those who have been isolated, may also trigger incidents. “People are on edge; they’ve taken sides politically, and they have gotten angry,” Paul warns. “It’s not just students; it’s adults as well. We better have [mental health] services and resources ready to go.”
Funding School Safety Solutions
Paul starts, “First of all, there’s an abundance of money… we need to use wisdom in how we’re going to spend this money.” When used strategically, you can use stimulus funding to respond to COVID-19 and implement solutions that will help build and maintain a safe learning environment well beyond the pandemic.
Maintaining a Safe School as the Safety Landscape Changes
There are always new considerations around school safety to account for as the school year progresses. Subscribe to our podcast, School Safety Today, on Apple Podcast or Spotify to learn more advice and best practices from some of our industry’s greatest experts.