After what seems like an incredibly short summer respite, it’s time for parents to start preparing for another school year. Along with a hectic schedule of back to school shopping, practices, and meetings, and the exciting prospects of another school year, parents (and kids) also find themselves facing the return to school with unsettling fears and anxieties about school safety.
School safety is about more than just school violence, and making sure your child is safe at school is not just the job of educators or police officers. As a parent, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is not good enough. It takes collaboration between all school stakeholders - educators, parents, students, and emergency responders - to make our schools safer. The good news is that there are many things you can do to keep your child safe returning to school. Here are just a few.
See something, say something is not just for adults.
Kids are often told not to tattle on each other. But disclosing information related to safety is critically important - and kids need to know that. Talk with your child about what to do when they see or hear concerning statements or social media posts, or witness behaviors that are odd or unsettling. Emphasize to your child that they are not being asked to make a judgement or decision about whether something is dangerous or threatening, rather they are being asked to disclose incidents, actions, and statements that are suspicious, disturbing, or just “off” in some way. Discuss ways to report threats or incidents to adults - not just sharing concerns via social media or talking with other students. If your child reports information to you, make sure to share it quickly, accurately, and confidentially, not with other parents in the stands at a game or on social media, but directly with school or law enforcement officials.
Another reason to think before you post.
Research by the Educator’s School Safety Network indicates that in the 2017-18 school year, more than 50 percent of school-based threats of violence were made, distributed, and shared via social media. Talk with your child about the appropriate use of social media (and technology in general) and don’t be afraid to limit and/or monitor their use. The significant rise this spring in the number of students arrested and charged after making social media threats demonstrates that schools and law enforcement officials cannot and will not tolerate threats of violence from students. Many state and local governments as well as school districts have adopted increasingly severe consequences and penalties for students who make threats ranging from disciplinary action such as suspensions or expulsion to criminal charges with stays in juvenile detention. In particular, make sure your child understands that making what they might consider “jokes” about shootings, bombs, or other violence is not acceptable - and has dire consequences.
Be active, not passive.
No matter what their age, your child needs to be an active participant in keeping themselves safe, not simply a passive bystander or someone waiting for help. Make sure your child understands and can apply basic safety procedures. Things like “stop, drop, and roll,” bus safety, or “stranger danger” might be taught in school, but should also be reviewed and reinforced at home. Emphasize that no matter the situation (whether it’s an approaching tornado or a violent attack), they must act quickly to move away from the danger to safety (whether an adult is there to direct them or not). This is not the time for taking cell phone videos, gawking to see what happens next or waiting for a teacher to show up with instructions.
Family emergency plans.
Develop and discuss a family emergency plan like those available at www.ready.gov. Make sure your child knows (and has access to) important emergency contact information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. Your child should know and understand who is authorized to pick them up, who they are allowed to go with, and how they should get in contact with you in the event of an emergency. Make sure the school has the most updated and current information for emergency contacts - and update them every time it changes.
Advocate for school safety every day.
Parents are powerful advocates for important improvements in school safety. Don’t know where to start? Ask your school critical questions about safety such as:
- Have all school staff members been trained in all aspects of crisis response (such as medical emergencies, severe weather etc.), not just active shooter?
- Is the school’s crisis plan or emergency operations plan reviewed and revised each year? Does it deal with all hazards, or just an active shooter?
- Have students been given all hazards crisis response training that is appropriate to their age and developmental level?
- Does your school have a parent reunification plan to reunite parents and students after an emergency event?
- Has the school conducted a vulnerability or multi-disciplinary (not just law enforcement/security) risk assessment to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities around the facility?
- Does the school have a threat assessment team to deal with threats of violence and to identify, assess, and manage individuals who are at risk for violence against themselves or others?
While the memories of school violence and threats from the last school year are still fresh in our minds, it is also important to remember (and to make sure that your child knows) that violence in schools is still statistically rare. In fact, in many ways schools are safer today than they have ever been. Better still, there is so much that can be done to increase the safety of children in schools - don’t underestimate your power as a parent to make it happen.