Back-to-School Safety Measures: What You Need to Know
For educators and administrators of a K-12 school (kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school), the first week of school is often a wild ride filled with stresses and challenges.
While you can’t be prepared for everything, you’re still legally responsible for implementing robust school safety measures. Today’s news headlines are focused on active shooter threats, and there are also other situations that could put the lives of students and staff in jeopardy.
The experts at The North Group have been equipping schools with results-driven safety plans for over 20 years. We recommend that every school uses a holistic approach when reviewing their school safety plan each year.
Safety Measures and Policies
If you’re an administrator, address the existing safety plans and crisis guidelines you have in place.
Every state differs when it comes to the legal requirements of what must be included in a school safety plan. Check with your governing authorities to ensure that you're in compliance, or call us for a plan review.
But as a starting point, your plan may include the following:
- Natural disaster contingency plans
- Snow days
- Institutional support policies
- Emergency dismissal policy
- Bullying policy
- Mental health guidelines
- Transportation procedures
- Pick-up and drop-off procedures
- Bus zone safety measures
- Notification systems
- How to notify a parent or guardian
- How families may notify the school
- Active shooter policies
- Lockdown procedures
- Evacuation procedures
- Visitor procedures
Review all safety measures using the following criteria:
- What are the policies missing?
- What measures are out of date and need review?
- What’s covered during school drills?
- Are there any areas of oversight?
- Are there unnecessary or inefficient procedures?
- Has a real-life situation occurred?
- If yes, were the policies followed?
- If they weren’t, why? How can you refine the policies to make them more effective?
As you consider these questions and review your policies, seek input from others — including staff members, teachers, and students — through informal conversations, meetings, or surveys.
Finally, if you're considering applying for a school safety grant, you may need to cover additional information in your plan. The North Group builds custom plans for grant applications, and we also have ready-made plans that meet state and federal legal requirements.
Entrance and Visitor Security
Be certain that visitor procedures are clear. Have a system in place (for example, special name tags) to clearly denote which visitors should be in the school. Train teachers and school staff to notify the appropriate parties if an unauthorized individual is in the school.
Does the school have a sentry (security/patrol officer)? The sentry should be responsible for ensuring that only students and permitted visitors are permitted to enter the building. Institute policies to control visitor access, such as ID checks against approved visitor lists.
Your school building is likely a hotbed of safety concerns, ranging from making sure the flu doesn’t spread to ensuring only authorized people are in the building at appropriate times.
As an administrator, you should openly communicate with staff to understand where they see issues. Staff members, especially teachers, are on the frontlines with students and are directly impacted by your safety procedures — and they might notice something you didn’t.
You should also assess the building’s interior and exterior to identify areas that could be vulnerable to threats.
When conducting your assessment, consult experts like your local fire marshal and school resource officer. Address questions like:
- Are doors locked at appropriate times?
- Who has access to the building?
- Where are potential safety weak points located?
In addition, the school nurse can help you develop effective procedures to keep sicknesses from spreading.
School Safety Training for Staff Members
Even if nothing has changed from year to year, you should hold training sessions with all of your staff members to go over the school’s safety policies and procedures. A quick review before school goes back into session will help to refresh everyone’s memory.
(But every time a policy changes, you should immediately review those changes with all staff members — don’t wait for the start of the school year!)
Also, make sure you’re actively fostering an environment where teachers feel empowered to provide important feedback, as well as to act during an emergency.
For one, implement channels through which teachers can approach administrators like yourself if they suspect a potential threat or safety risk. Clearly communicate how you plan to act on their feedback — and then practice what you preach.
For another, train your teachers to take charge during a crisis. Teachers are directly responsible for a classroom of students, meaning that their students will be looking to them for guidance. For this reason, you need to equip your teachers to respond appropriately even under duress.
School Safety Training for Students
Training also involves students, which means regular safety drills. Plan to hold regular drills throughout the entire school year; these will help students understand the exit routes and where they should regroup once outside the building.
Safety drills and tragic events at other schools may cause students to become scared or uneasy about the back-to-school season. Educate your staff on how to discuss difficult topics with students — using age-appropriate methods to broach sensitive topics.
Establish Relationships with Local Law Enforcement
It’s important to maintain a positive, proactive relationship with local law enforcement. Law enforcement needs to understand the school’s safety measures and policies, while your staff needs to become familiar with their response times and the information they’ll need to support your school in times of crisis.
To build familiarity and rapport, you may want to consider involving local law enforcement in your planned drills. This is completely voluntary, but highly recommended.
Engage and Educate Your Community
Parents, family members, and others in the community need to know that the school is serious about safety. They should understand the safety procedures to follow in the event of an emergency.
Make your policies available online, and also provide hard copies that students can take home or parents may pick up. Offer information in easily digestible chunks, as opposed to long-winded legalese — for example, by providing tips via email, monthly newsletters, or social media.
Your School is Facing an Emergency. What Should You Do?
If your school district is facing a crisis and you need help, contact both 911 and the North Group immediately. In a life-threatening situation, time is of the essence — even a few minutes could spell the difference between life and death.