A community approach to building safe and secure schools benefits principals and helps prepare for a variety of emergencies.
Managing budgets, evaluating staff, and implementing academic programs are just a handful of duties competing for campus administrators’ attention. They also must carve out time for an extremely important responsibility: ensuring schools remain safe. Too often, administrators shoulder that responsibility alone, but new requirements from the 86th Session of the Texas Legislature encourages community partnerships to increase the safety of schools.
Principals report on safety measures
National news coverage on school safety prompted MCH Strategic Data, a provider of educational data and technology solutions, to include school safety in this year’s K-12 Principals’ Assessment of Education. School principals were asked to identify all applicable sources of decision-making regarding safety and security. Of total responses, 74 percent chose the school leadership team, 61 percent reported decisions were handled at the district level, and 51 percent reported principals as the sole decision-maker.
The survey identified a variety of practices to promote safety to include:
- Locking and monitoring perimeter doors and gates
- Strategic use of metal detectors and security cameras
- Placement of a law enforcement officer on school premises for support
- Principals reported additional measures taken to make their environments safer including completing staff training, implementing new safety standards, and installing new security systems.
New Texas requirements
Senate Bill (SB) 11, one of the legislative session’s more comprehensive bills, is designed to improve school safety and promote mental health in schools and community colleges.
Beginning in 2019–2020, new mandates related to school security include:
- Training for district employees, including substitute teachers, to respond in an emergency
- Access for employees to a telephone or other electronic communication device for immediate contact with certain emergency services, law enforcement agencies, health departments, and fire departments in an emergency
- Improved infrastructure and technology to allow for communication during an emergency
- Mandatory school drills to prepare students and employees for responding to an emergency
- Professional development and training for school personnel in suicide prevention, grief, and trauma-informed care to respond to students in crisis
- Training for members of the school safety and security committee, school counselors and mental health professionals, and other key personnel in the district in integrating psychological safety strategies into the district improvement plan
- Mandatory training for commissioned peace officers in crisis response management
State-level rules and regulations are in development and information will be provided when rules are finalized. For now, districts must start planning for implementation, and they’re encouraged to use community resources to support development of these comprehensive measures.
Involving the community
SB 11 encourages school leaders in charge of implementing comprehensive safety and security programs to include police, fire departments, EMS, local health districts, emergency management officials, community leaders, and volunteer organizations in their initiatives. Schools can forge strong partnerships with community stakeholders by inviting them to:
- Participate in the initial planning process to review emergency plans and ensure plans are consistent with the community’s needs and capabilities.
- Help identify ways to strengthen and sustain partnerships and teachable moments throughout the school year.
- Visit campuses for library reading time, career days, or coffee with campus staff to build positive relationships between the school and the community.
The collaborative spirit promoted in SB 11 forms the foundation of a whole-community emergency management approach. In communities that work together to keep schools safe and secure, resources such as first responders and local nonprofit organizations help campuses prepare, respond, recover, mitigate against, and prevent incidents. The whole-community approach benefits schools by:
- Giving a view into the needs of community organizations and how the school can respond when a disaster threatens or occurs.
- Building and maintaining community partnerships that extend beyond emergency preparedness and benefit children.
- Managing expectations during an emergency by helping first responders and school officials understand each other’s capabilities and limitations.
Schools that decide the whole-community approach is best for them should ensure their emergency management planning team represents a cross-section of the community. A comprehensive planning team includes school faculty and staff, local first responders, local emergency management, and non-governmental organizations.
Some schools may include parents and students who give a unique voice and perspective to the planning process without jeopardizing the emergency plan’s confidential and secure components.
Broadening our view of emergencies
In our world today, emergency plans must account for more than fires, natural disasters, and chemical spills. The increase in school violence raises the stakes and puts emergency management on the radar of communities and the legislators who represent these communities. By including the community in safety and security planning, districts ensure an efficient and effective response and recovery when bad things happen. More importantly, the whole-community approach fosters confidence among parents, neighbors, and businesses that schools are safe, and by extension, communities thrive.
Melanie Moss is an emergency management and school security consultant in TASB Risk Management Fund Risk Solutions. Send Melanie an email at email@example.com. April Mabry is an assistant director in TASB HR Services. Send April an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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