Tight budgets are no excuse for failing to be proactive with school safety.
Parents will forgive educators if their school’s test scores go down. Parents will be much less forgiving if their children are hurt in an incident which could have been prevented or better managed.
Attorneys and the media will be equally unforgiving.
So how can educators being proactive and responsible school safety leaders at a time when teachers are being laid off and education budgets are tightening more each day?
- Assess your school safety needs.
- Start with an internal assessment of school safety issues conducted in-house by your school and district level school safety/crisis committees.
- Survey students, parents, and staff.
- Get in-put from community partners such as first-responders, mental health, and other stakeholders.
- Create and follow a strategic plan developed by school safety professionals.
- Consider using your limited school safety funds to have a comprehensive, independent external professional school safety assessment to build upon your internal needs assessment.
- An external assessment by independent, non-product-affiliated school safety professionals should produce a district-specific final report which can be used over a 3-to-5 year period as a strategic plan for school safety.
- Their findings should tell school leaders what they are doing well, what is working, what can be done to build upon their strengths, and what steps are priorities versus what can be done over a period of time.
- The costs you pay up-front for a professional assessment by quality experts could save your schools a lot of wasted time and money over time.
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions to specific security incidents.
- If your board and administration has a clearly defined strategic plan for school safety, they will be less likely to make knee-jerk reactions to specific incidents.
- Time and time again we see school boards and superintendents pressured into throwing up metal detectors, more cameras, and other big cost items following parent and media pressure after a high-profile incident.
- These tend to be unnecessary and wasted resources, but the lack of a concrete strategic plan for school safety leaves school leaders with nothing to fall back on when pressure mounts after a high-profile incident, rumored threat, or other school safety issue in their school-community.
- Proactively communicate on school safety with your school community.
- Once you have a clear assessment and strategic plan, communicate it to members of your school community.
- Let parents, students, staff, and the community know what your assessment identified as school safety best practices already in place.
- Share those successes and let your school community know what you’re doing well.
- Then let them also know what areas your assessment identified for building upon those strengths and how your district plans to implement those recommendations over a period of 3-to-5 years.
- Communiate back to the community periodically to update them on recommendations and strategies you have implemented as you move forward over upcoming years.
Yes, my company provides a school safety assessment service. My goal is not to use this space to push our specific services. Our experience and reputation sells itself. But as specialists in helping school boards and administrators work through highly emotional and political climates after high-profile school safety incidents, we also know where schools drop the ball in preventing and managing these situations.
My goal is to get school leaders away from thinking that because they’re dramatically cutting education budgets, they can simply justify not being proactive on school safety issues by pointing to tight budgets. Parents simply won’t buy that as a reason for failing to be proactive with the safety of their kids. And a judge or jury will also not be sympathetic when a superintendent and school board president get on the witness stand or in a deposition and try to explain away why a student was injured or killed by pointing to tightened school district budgets.
Parents, staff, students, judges, juries, and the media can, however, understand that school safety is a continued priority to school leaders if they can point to a specific plan for school safety. Educators will have the trust of their school-community if they have a legitimate, district-specific strategic school safety plan they are genuinely working to implement. And school leaders will be viewed as genuine in their commitment to school safety if they have a legitimate safety planning process, are transparent with that process, and communicate regularly with their school community on specific school safety best practices implemented in their schools.
Does your individual school, and your school district as a whole, have a strategic plan for school safety?
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