The tragedy at Santa Fe High School happened several weeks ago, but reverberations from that day continue to be felt throughout the state and across the country.
Our thoughts continue to be with the community of Santa Fe as they deal with the unthinkable. It’s uplifting to see the outpouring of support for the students, families, and staff of Santa Fe ISD from across the country, and we in HR Services continue to seek ways to support all districts as they try to keep schools safe for their students.
Gun violence isn’t the only emergency situation for which schools have to prepare. Schools need plans in place to respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and other dangerous situations. Most districts have worked hard to prepare written emergency operations plans and have trained employees and students through emergency response practice drills. However, there’s a large population of adults on campuses on any given day who typically aren’t included in those training and drills—substitute teachers.
According to the TASB HR Services Teacher Substitutes survey, 62 percent of district respondents provide group substitute training at the district level, and another 25 percent of districts provide some other sort of training, including online courses or training from a third-party provider. Thirteen (13) percent of respondents provide no training to substitutes. Of those districts that provide training, 54 percent provide it only once, upon initial hire.
The content of teacher substitute training varies from district to district, but most focus on basic district practices (e.g., how to use the substitute notification system to get assignments) and classroom management. Many campuses provide packets to their substitutes that include emergency procedures, like where to go during a fire drill, but substitute assignments often require instructors to teach in different classrooms every day, arriving shortly before school starts. There may not be time available to the substitute to review this documentation before an emergency arises.
We’ve identified a couple of ways HR staff can help make substitutes feel safe and adequately prepared to handle an emergency situation on a campus, and these should be fairly low-cost and low-effort to implement.
- Include substitutes in emergency training, such as active shooter drills, fire drills, tornado drills, and other emergency response practices. This should be repeated as often as possible to ensure all substitutes have been trained and are ready to make sure students are safe in the event of an emergency. Someone in the district should track and monitor which substitutes have completed emergency drills and when they were last completed.
- Designate a substitute liaison on each campus, or in each wing of the campus on large campuses, who has responsibility for ensuring each substitute is aware of campus emergency procedures. One of this person’s morning duties should be to make sure the substitute has all information and guidance necessary to respond appropriately in an emergency situation. While substitutes may work regularly in a district, many work at different campuses where procedures may vary, or even in different classrooms on a campus that have different locks or evacuation procedures (e.g., portable vs. internal classroom).
For campuses that have doors that lock and unlock with a key, districts need to decide whether a key will be issued to the substitute for the day or whether the substitute will use alternative procedures (e.g., the substitute liaison has the room key and is responsible for locking the substitute’s room in the event of an emergency).
HR also can include an emergency preparedness component to district-level substitute training, but campus-specific guidance is necessary to help substitutes feel prepared to protect students in case of emergency. Additional resources may be available to districts as part of Governor Greg Abbott’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan.
Investing time and effort to train substitutes in emergency preparedness during district training and at the campus level can help ensure the safety of all students in the event of an emergency. It’s worth the extra effort to help your substitutes be as prepared as possible.
Amy Campbell is the director of TASB HR Services. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.