The Safety and Security Challenge
On April 20, 1999, two students embarked on a killing spree that left 12 students and one teacher dead, and 21 others injured. The killers finished by taking their own lives. This was one of the most tragic events in our country’s history: the attack at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado. Since then, there have been other incidents of violence in our nation’s schools. Operating on the premise that even one violent act is too many, the question needs to be asked: What can school officials and administrators do to create a safe place for students to learn?
Creating an environment of safety and security in the school is a challenge that should be at the top of every school administrator’s list of priorities. Making children feel safe is critical to their well-being and sense of security. Since they spend a major part of their young lives within the walls of the school, it’s crucial that school administrators do all they can to protect students and prepare for any emergency that might arise.
A balanced approach to School Safety
When considering the safety and security of a school, administrators should try to balance operational, technical, and physical safety measures. An operational safety measure might include hiring school guards; a technical safety measure might employ the use of lights and cameras in and outside the building; and a physical safety measure might include installing fire barriers within the school. Balancing all three of these aspects leads to a more secure school environment.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, comments on the progress that’s been made in school security in the 10 years since the Columbine disaster. He claims that much progress has been made in the use of security technology over the past several years; however, schools have invested less time and effort in their people and in the implementation of a comprehensive school safety plan. “The first and best line of defense is always a well trained, highly alert school staff and student body. Many schools have lost focus on the fundamentals while searching for a quick fix to security and emergency preparedness concerns,” said Trump in an article entitled, “Columbine 10th Anniversary: Lessons Learned and Glaring Gaps Remain.”
Educating Teacher and Student on Safety
If what Trump says is true, then one of the best things school administrators can do to increase safety and security in their schools is to educate both teachers and students on safety issues and emergency preparedness tactics. This includes education on the prevention of emergencies, as well. Creating a safe environment starts with awareness of that environment. Teaching kids how to identify issues before they become big problems goes a long way toward helping create a safe school environment.
Other suggestions for school administrators are listed below.
Develop a comprehensive school disaster plan that covers both man-made disasters and acts of nature. Make sure it includes action items for both teachers and students. Educate each group on their specific roles and responsibilities in the event of an actual emergency.
Make sure time is set aside to conduct yearly emergency preparedness workshops for teachers. The better educated the staff is, the more likely they are to respond appropriately in a true emergency.
Incorporate safety topics into the curriculum so that students get comfortable with discussing safety issues.
Put out a suggestion box that students can use to suggest ways to improve the quality of the school environment. Make sure that all suggestions are honored in some way, even if it means discussing with the student why their particular idea isn’t feasible.
Ensure that a thorough background investigation is performed on any potential new staff members. Keeping children safe starts inside the school.
Establish and maintain close contact with local law enforcement agencies, emergency workers, social services agencies, and the community.
By implementing some or all of these tactics, school administrators can help ensure their schools are as safe and secure as possible. This creates an environment of trust for students and allows them to focus on their studies rather than on the dangers of the outside world. That’s a winning solution for everyone.