On Tuesday, school districts on both sides of the country were rocked by violence.
At Riverside Unified School District near Los Angeles, the father of an elementary school student forced his way past school staff members, assaulted one teacher, and took another hostage in one of the school’s classrooms.
As the LA Times reports, this led to a seven-hour standoff between the suspect and hostage negotiators. When police never heard from the hostage, a SWAT team entered the classroom. While details are still emerging, the exchange ended with the parent’s death and the teacher’s rescue.
While the hostage crisis was unfolding in California, New York City witnessed its deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11 after a man deliberately drove a rented pickup truck into pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path in Lower Manhattan. As CBS News reports, the attack resulted in at least eight deaths and 13 injuries.
Two of those injuries were to students on a school bus that the suspect rammed at the end of his deadly rampage. Two school employees were also injured on the bus.
When inexplicable acts of violence affect our schools, it’s easy to wonder what school districts could have done differently to prevent them. In these particular cases, the answer is probably nothing.
However, these events will undoubtedly prompt school districts across the country to take a closer look at their school safety plans and to see if they can make any adjustments to prevent similar events from happening in the future.
Back in June, we wrote about the common misconceptions many school leaders have when developing their school safety strategies. In the wake of this latest wave of violence, we thought it appropriate to take another look. Keep these misconceptions in mind as you review your own safety plans.
1. School safety is just another thing to do.
There is no box you can check that will guarantee school safety. You cannot say, “Well, we’ve got school safety covered, what’s next?” Safety must become a part of your culture, as natural and ubiquitous as teaching and learning. It must underlie every decision you make in your schools.
2. There is a silver bullet.
We obsess over the pursuit of silver bullets in this country. Yet, there almost never is one–for anything. Locked doors and metal detectors are nice to have in the right situations. But a truly effective school safety strategy starts up front, with a strong board policy. From there, staff at every level need a clear plan and process to ensure that the policy sticks. Without these “3Ps,” you’ll struggle to create a culture of school safety.
3. Data-mining is a good idea.
School district leaders are experimenting with social-media monitoring, essentially tracking students’ online activity, in an attempt to identify potential threats. It’s an interesting concept. But this is one of those situations where the cure is almost certainly worse than the disease. Before you start mining student social media data and asking people for passwords, consider the precedent you want to set.
4. Because there is a policy, everyone knows about it.
By itself, your school safety policy is just a shelf document. If you don’t actively share your policy with your community, if you don’t take the time to ensure that every single person understands the policy the way it was intended, it’s not going to do you or your schools any good.
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5. School safety is one person’s job.
Don’t assume that just because you have a strong counseling staff or school safety office that you’re covered. School safety isn’t the job of one or two skilled people. Create a dashboard to monitor school safety and make sure each individual knows what to do when. If you can’t forecast exactly how long it takes to identify and respond to a bullying complaint, for example, or track who on your team is responsible when someone brings a gun into one of your school buildings, you have a serious school safety problem.
6. The board needs to execute the policy.
While the school board helps set the policy and vision, it’s school leaders and the community who actually execute the policy. The best way to keep your board informed isn’t to engage them in every single detail of school safety. Don’t get into the weeds on policy governance. Instead, pick three or four key performance indicators that clearly illustrate your progress and share those KPIs on a regular basis. If a crisis does happen, make time to talk specifically about that issue, and put new safety measures and protocols in place.
7. When you’re done, you’re done.
When it comes to school safety, there is no such thing as one and done. Circumstances are always changing. Technologies are always changing. Your school safety policy requires constant nurturing. It needs to change in lockstep with the world around it. And those changes need to be ongoing and continuous.
Have you run into any of these common misconceptions in your schools? What steps are you taking to make school safety a priority for everyone in your community? Tell us in the comments.
This is a modified version of a blog post that first ran on K12 Insight. Read the original version here.