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Planning for the worst

Improving Safety Plans: Schools Plan for the Worst

In the conversation around school shootings, one question is front-of-mind for every school leader, educator, and parent: Is my school prepared?

From practicing lockdown drills to rethinking exit and entry plans to ramping up the presence of campus police, school districts across the country are looking for any and all ways to be prepared for the worst.

But, according to a new survey of school resource officers, many districts have a long way to go. The survey, conducted by Education Week, found that one out of every five school resource officers views their school as unprepared for an active-shooter scenario.

Recent attacks in Parkland, Fla. and Santa Fe, Texas have prompted school leaders to increase security measures. But as Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers tells Education Week, districts must implement new measures with smart planning and strategy:

“The push, of course, is a result of school shootings, schools wanting to protect their facilities and students as well as they can. We want to make sure that people understand the importance of selecting the right officers for these positions, making sure they are veteran officers, and making sure they are specially trained to work in a school environment.”

The coming of summer means school leaders will have time to assess and update their school safety plans.

But, as worries over school violence increase, state officials are proposing new ways to ensure school safety in the face of the unthinkable.

Rhode Island makes school safety a requirement

On Monday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law a bill requiring every school district in the state to complete a self-assessment of their current school safety measures and submit plans for improving safety on their K-12 campuses, reports the Providence Journal.

The assessments were developed by an already-established state school safety commission. The districts will have 30 days after the law takes effect to submit safety plans. They will then have to reassess their strategies every three years.

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According to Rhode Island’s state police captain Derek Borek, who also chairs the safety committee, the goal of the assessments is to help districts find cost-effective ways to keep students safe.

As he tells the Providence Journal, “It’s another step to ensure the safety of our students in schools. Anything we can do to ensure the safety of our children in our schools is the goal of the safety committee.”

New York state audits school safety

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently announced that districts in his state would undergo school security assessments, reports WIVB4.  

Unlike Rhode Island’s self-assessments, auditors from the New York Comptroller’s office will determine whether districts are following provisions of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act, such as developing comprehensive safety plans and evacuation protocols, providing necessary access for emergency responders, and implementing proper violence prevention training.

As DiNapoli said in his announcement on Monday:

“The epidemic of deadly school shootings in the past few years and the terror wrought in our children’s classrooms is horrifying. Sadly, every school district in New York and across the country has to plan for the unthinkable. My auditors are going to examine if the laws and programs New York has in place to keep our children safe in schools are being followed. We need to do everything we can to prevent senseless tragedies.”

Three important steps for safety planning

Facing mounting pressure from state officials and increasing concerns from community members, parents, and students, school districts will need to take the opportunity this summer break to assess and improve their safety strategies.

As they do, former school superintendent Dr. Gerald Dawkins says it’s vital that they follow three steps.

  1. Policy
    Effective school safety strategies start with strong school board safety policies.
  2. Plan
    To communicate the board policy to your community, a school safety plan should outline a tangible and practical outline of what the policy looks like in action.
  3. Process
    The process is the means by which a policy is carried out. Dawkins says any effective school safety process requires plenty of dry runs and rehearsals with staff and students.

How is your school or district working to assess and improve your school safety plans this summer? What steps have you taken to prepare for violent situations? Tell us in the comments.