Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education, provided opening comments at a school emergency planning training we provided in September of 2009 for a Virginia school district.
In his remarks, Mr. Jennings made a powerful observation on how school emergency planning and other school safety tasks can easily fall to the back burner in school districts due to the busy nature of day-to-day school activities:
“It is easy for the urgent to drive out the important.”
School officials typically cite academic demands, time constraints, and tight budgets among the top reasons for not being up-to-date with school crisis planning.
School crisis team meetings, emergency plan development, staff training, tabletop exercises with community partners, student support services, and related school safety planning take reasonable time. And time is one of the few things more scarce than money in most school districts today.
How can school officials make sure the important task of school emergency planning is not driven out by the other urgent issues in schools?
- Make school safety a leadership issue. It is only a priority if boards, superintendents, and principals exert leadership in keeping safety and crisis planning on the front burner.
- Create accountability by requiring documentation of crisis plan updates, crisis team meetings, training, etc.
- Include school safety as an ongoing part of school district professional development programming.
- Be creative. Dedicate five minutes to discuss security and crisis plans at every faculty meeting. Include a regular section on safety and preparedness in principal bulletins to school staff.
- Work with first responders, emergency management, mental health, and other community partners as force multiplers for maximizing school emergency response and crisis planning.
The good news is there are many educators, school safety officials, and others in school-communities who are making sure the urgent does not drive out the important obligations for school safety. We will be highlighting these “School Safety Leaders” in an ongoing series in School Security Blog.
Who are the school safety leaders in your school and how are they demonstrating safety leadership?