Steps Parents Can Take to Address School Safety Concerns

Posted by on January 21, 2010

Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive emails from parents with concerns about safety at their child’s school.  While I have no firsthand knowledge of the facts of these cases, many appear on the surface to be rational and legitimate issues.

Although the facts vary case-to-case, a few common themes have emerged:

  • School safety is perhaps the only school issue more important to parents than their child’s academic achievement.
  • Parents, like the media and others, have become much more educated on what should and should not be in place to address safety at school.
  • Today’s parents have little tolerance for bureaucratic responses or having their concerns minimized.

Parents know when they are being given half-truths, politically-correct answers, and/or the “company line.”  Such dismissive responses from school administrators can severely hurt the credibility of the administrator, the school, and the overall district’s leaders. 

It is also clear that many parents do not know the best route to take to constructively address their concerns and frustrations.  Some basic steps to help parents bring their school safety concerns to the attention of school officials include:

  1. Start closest to the source.  If an incident such as bullying, harassment, or threats occur in the classroom, first talk with the teacher in charge of that classroom. 
  2. Engage the student’s counselor.  Many schools have counselors, psychologists, social workers, and related support staff.  Counselors are there to help students with climate and relationship issues.
  3. Follow the chain-of-command.  Every now and then, parents may need to take their concerns “to the top” school leaders (the superintendent and/or school board).  But jumping the chain-of-command without making an effort to deal with the administrators at the building level is not a wise move.  Start by talking with the school’s assistant principal and principal on specific safety concerns at their school. Then work up the “chain-of-command” to the superintendent and school board, if necessary.
  4. Document your concerns and requests, especially those related to school safety.  Written complaints provide a paper trail of a parent’s effort to communicate and resolve his/her concerns.
  5. Notify police if a potential crime is involved.
  6. Educate yourself on district policies and appeals processes. Many parent safety concerns I receive are questioning disciplinary action or inaction by school administrators.  Parents should familiarize themselves with student and parent handbooks, school board policies, and related documents to help determine if they have a legitimate complaint.  Understand due process appeal procedures if you believe your child has been unfairly disciplined.  Appeal up the chain-of-command if your safety complaints are not reasonably resolved.
  7. Constructively communicate with school officials.  Going on the attack, pointing fingers, placing blame, and making threats will not move the conversation closer to resolving a concern or issue.  Try to sincerely work with school administrators cooperatively, not in an adversarial manner.
  8. Consider if there is “strength in numbers” in addressing the concern.  Specific incidents are typically best handled individually on a one-on-one basis.   But some issues, such as getting easy access inside a school or chronic safety hazards not addressed over time,  may be shared by many parents.  If parents collectively communicate these concerns through the school’s parent organization or as an informal but collective group, greater attention may be paid to the matter by school administrators and/or the school board. 
  9. Consult outside advocacy support if necessary.  If you have taken issues to the teacher, counselors, principal, superintendent, and school board, and they remain unresolved,  then you may have need to seek outside assistance.  Personal legal counsel may be necessary in extreme unresolved matters. Unfortunately, in some cases needed change may not occur until legal inquiries and media inquiries push issues to the front burner for school decision-makers.   But legal and media intervention should be last resorts and on extreme situations.  Try to work within the system and through all steps in the system first.  The best scenario is where parents and school officials work cooperatively, sincerely, and collaboratively to resolve issues in a manner focused on the best interests of the child.
  10. Parents should seek outside professional support for mental health issues (such as, but not limited to, depression, withdrawal, substance abuse, etc. etc.) and other social, psychological, and support needs for their child(ren) and their family, as they deem appropriate.  A number of parents will report they have exhausted all efforts in dealing with school officials and/or they do not feel school staff has been responsive enough to meeting their child’s needs, especially in cases where their child has been the reported victim of ongoing harassment, bullying, physical assaults, etc.  If as a parent or guardian feels this way, they should not sit idly but instead pursue services and support from medical, mental health, social services, community-based organizations, government agencies, etc.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good starting point for parents to consider regardless of the specific complaint or concern they want to address at their child’s school. 

For more detailed questions parents can ask, visit our checklist for parents on my web site.

How are parent concerns about school safety communicated to school officials at your school?

Ken Trump

10 thoughts on “Steps Parents Can Take to Address School Safety Concerns

  1. Patricia says:

    What actions can a parent take if they feel that their child is not in a safe environment at school? For example, my 12 year old son had his nose broken by a 14 year old boy on the school bus. I don’t feel that he was treated fairly. He is considered the victim. There are no counselors at the school to talk with him nor are there any social workers that we can discuss this situation with. They both received the same disciplinary action. We took it to a juvenile counselor for the court system and is waiting for a response from them. However, the school is not taking the matter serious enough to me. The doctor stated that my sons’ nose was probably broken due to being hit in the face with a brass nuckle or weapon/object.
    This was truly an assault with a weapon conflicting serious injury. Usually most schools have a one year school suspension for this. Failure to address this any further could lead up to a knife or gun being brought to the school next time. Please help me, I am worried about my son.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      While we recommend working at the front-line level with teachers, counselors, and principals who are working with your child on a day-to-day basis, there are also some incidents which constitute a crime. As you’ll see in the blog post on steps parents can take, one step includes reporting crimes to the police. If the school does not report a criminal incident first, the parent certainly has the right to make a police report. There is no “double jeopardy” when a student is disciplined via the school disciplinary system AND a police report is made if the same act is potentially a violation of the criminal code. You may, based on your message, wish to pursue both avenues (disciplinary and criminal).

  2. Missy pagan says:

    I have to sympathize with the above parent. My son is 13 yrs.old in the 8th gr. In a nyc public school. He has been threatened with a box cutter by a 16yr old whose in his class. I reported it 2 the principal who scheduled a meeting with the mother and me. THe child denied any wrong doing and staff dismissed being allowed to take any actions. It was concluded that he would stay away from my son. However, he did it again, with witnesses present and, yet the principal claims its only an allegation and there is nothing she can do. At my local precint I was told that school safety was responsible for taking action…I feel like the bucket is being passed around, while my childs safety hangs in the balance…what can I do???

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your concerns. I completely understand your frustration. I suggest you go back through the various steps I listed in this blog post and make sure you’ve covered the full chain of options. Also, consider documenting your concerns in writing to the various entities. When you create a papertrail, sometimes this generates a different level of attention. And be persistent — go back again if the problem has not been resolved or reoccurs. These situations often reoccur and require persistence, albeit it quite an uncomfortable process for student victims and parents.

  3. Michelle Coxx says:

    Police reports, pictures, doctors documentation, retraining order against the violent child. Student Code Chapter 37.007 and 37.008 is mandatory removal of violent children to DAEP. File level1,2,3 greivance with faxed confirmations. Schools are supposed to have an ANTI BULLY PROGRAM !

  4. Miosoty says:

    I can relate to these concerns as a parent. I had a mother enforce violence with their child towards my daughter. She actually waited for my daughter in the early AM outside of her house for my daughter to fight with my daughter. She actually coached her daughter on what to do to my daughter. Passer by actually broke up the fight. The school is handling it lightly so I took the initiative to call the Asst superintendent and also make a report in the police dept. I also gave the name of a boy who video taped the fight.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Good evening. My name is Jennifer and my family and I relocated to a small town in Southwest Texas in April 2011. I will cut to the chase, as time is of the essence. Let me start by saying, I have 3 Caucasian children in grades 2nd,7th, and 9th and am certainly not one of those parents who believes their child can do no wrong. I am the first to admit and discipline when they are in the wrong, but by the same token, I will fight tooth and nail when they are in the right.I have had no issues with the older 2 in this district, but my 2nd grade daughter has become the target of a “28 year veteran” teacher in this small town. There have been many documented incidents and this woman believes she is immune. The principal is also the wife of a local officer with the Sheriff’s Department and backs her staff, even when outside substitute teachers are brought in to validate my 7 year old daughter’s story (a former incident.) They all believe they are beyond reproach. The latest incident was so flagrant, even I am in awe. Friday, after a conference call regarding my daughter receiving her 3rd ISS referral in 2 weeks for failure to bring back a homework sheet (this was true, as she did not return it), the teacher promptly returned to class with my daughter. Not long after, during the course of teaching, a question arose which led to this: The teacher stated,”Class, “Mrs. G” (principal) said ……..(my daughter’s name) does not like me and that I do not help you. Do I help?” To which the class stated yes. She then said to my daughter, “See, ….., the class is on MY side and you are on your OWN side!” This thoroughly embarrassed my child, especially since she has already been alienated and picked on; some being simple normal children behavior and some being the result of teacher input. A bit later during the same session, the teacher introduced a “new” way to do math and my daughter said excitedly (trying to regain some points), “I think you showed us this and I know how to do it!” The teacher stopped and stated, “Class, have I ever taught any of you this before?” They stated No. This further embarrassed my child. She had actually learned this at her prior school.

    I will stop there as this is very lengthy and there is so very much more that has led to this point. I believe you get the”jest of it”I need help and this clannish town seems to stick together. I have scoured the internet for resources and found you. Let me also say that my husband and I both have Criminal Justice degrees and are not ignorant. However, while we have documented everything, we are at a loss as to where to go next. I am going to the Superintendent tomorrow but am not hopeful that this demeaning teacher will be reprimanded as she should.

    I thank you for reading this and any advice, help, or input you may have. Thank you so very much for your time.
    Warm Regards,
    Jennifer
    jenniferkhayes@yahoo.com

  6. Judy says:

    I had a similar experience. No matter what is said to this teacher, she will find a way to make your child miserable. She should be ashamed that she stoops to competing with a child. However, the only way out for you is to completely remove your child from the school into a safe environment. I transferred my son to a small Catholic school (yes, I had to pay tuition but after i explained the emotional mess my son was in, they gave me a price break. We are not Catholic. However, my son told me years later that Miss Flemming (his new teacher) saved his life. His nerves were torn all to pieces and I don’t think he has recovered to this day at age 40. This is serious for your child. After you get the child in a safe environment, write letters everywhere you can giving details…not angry letter but documented truthful letters. Write letters to the editor about emotionally ill teachers (don’t name names but sign your own) and the damage they can do to children. Do research, fight the fight. but get your child safe first.

    Good luck.

  7. Iliana Santana says:

    What should I do. I live at the Satate of FL and the firdt week of school on Fri the sent my son home riding the bus. He was supposed to go to daycare. They left him at the entrance of our subdivision a very transit road. The bus left and my son started to cry and saw a couple of working guys working at the opposite side of the road. He crossed the road and asked for help. Then a lady that was driving buy saw him and stopped to help. Got my number and they call me. But I was a work can’t have my phone on me so that was not much of a help. Then she toke him back to school. The school only said to me that he was put on the bus by mistake. I found out when the lady thar found my son called me back to know how he was doing. I want to change my child from this school cuz I don’t believe he is safe there but the principal said I can’t do that cuz goes by school zone and he belong to that school. I understand that but what about his safety doesn’t count?

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Sorry to hear of your situation. While I cannot give advice on specific situations not having firsthand knowledge, I do suggest you sit down with the principal and transportation director to discuss your concerns, and document the concerns to them as well.

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