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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Notify police if a potential crime is involved.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?