This article appears in November Family magazine.
Whether you drop them off at elementary school or they’re driving themselves to high school, school safety is on every parent’s mind. They’re out of your sight and you can’t protect them. What should parents think about — or ask their children’s schools — regarding school safety?
The Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reignited a national conversation about school safety, but school safety isn’t just about gun safety, said Amanda Klinger, director of operations at The Educator’s School Safety Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering educators with school safety training and resources.
“Schools are not prisons, and they shouldn’t become prisons,” she said.
The issue is more broad than solely the violent incidents that major media chooses to focus on, Klinger said.
“If you have inadequate supervision at dismissal and a child gets hit by a car, that’s a school safety issue,” she said.
Schools must work on crisis prevention across the board to protect students from natural events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, power outages and fires — as well as from school shootings, Klinger said. Statistically speaking, your child’s school is very unlikely to be the target of a shooting but much more likely to endure a weather-related safety issue, she said.
What you can do
While Congress has increased federal support through 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act, which schools can use in a variety of ways including for safety measures, 39 state legislatures have proposed a variety of approaches to improve school safety — including more than 100 bills since the Parkland shooting, according to Politico in April. Some call for arming school personnel, while others address emergency response plans, require emergency drills, add school resource officers and strengthen building security and mental health services.
Parents can help, too.
“Parents can be incredible advocates for school safety, but they are often an untapped resource,” Klinger said.
Start a conversation with school officials to find out what safety measures are in place at your child’s school, Klinger said. Ask if you can volunteer to be a part of the school safety team. Find out if your school has added physical security measures, but don’t be fooled by quick fixes, Klinger said.
Too often schools focus on physical security (called “target hardening”) but skimp on the second line of defense, which are the policies and procedures needed to back it up, Klinger said.
“School safety is a billion-dollar industry. Parents want to see that schools are doing things to make schools safer,” which often results in metal detectors, security cameras and bulletproof coatings added to doors, she said. What good, though, is taking a visitor’s name and identification at the front door only to allow them to wander alone through the school once they pass the gatekeeper, Klinger asked.
Schools also need to develop age-appropriate emergency drills that will not scare or intimidate children, Klinger said.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to school safety.
“The conversation about an active shooter at a school is a hot topic, but even if all the guns magically disappeared tomorrow there would still be school safety issues,” she said.