School leaders often believe they have a school safety risk or liability in one area, when they are really much more vulnerable on entirely different issues.
We know superintendents and school boards can tell when they have a hot-button issue related to school safety. Increasingly, these issues are triggering parental, media, and/or other pressures on school leaders. These often result in my colleagues and I being hired to help educators solve both the safety issue and the school-community relations (translated: political) aspects of the issues.
Differences Between PR, Safety, and Liability Risks
But it is not uncommon for us to find that the issues creating school-community relations and political problems may not necessarily be the same issues posing substantial security and legal liability risks to the school district.
For example, while school officials in one city where challenged with concerns and calls for metal detectors after weapons confiscations, our assessment found much greater concerns and liabilities with training and staffing issues in the district’s security department.
In another school district, we were hired for the primary purpose of addressing an issue educators believed would involve physical security issues. After our first round of interviews, we found greater concerns around school emergency planning gaps and much fewer physical security needs.
And in many districts, we often find huge gaps between written school board policies and district crisis plans, and what actually is in practice on a day-to-day basis in the schools. These gaps expose school leaders to not only safety risks, but also to potential liability risks.
School Safety Liability Lessons Learned
We increasingly find two common themes:
- There is often a difference between a school-community relations school safety problem and a greater liability with actual school safety practices in a district. Both must be addressed, but the “real” area of concern for school leaders may not always be the one where they initially think they are most vulnerable.
- Oftentimes we find schools are not doing what they say they are doing. Their policies, procedures, and plans say one thing, but day-to-day practice is much different. The gap between paper and practice poses substantial safety and liability risks in many of these situations.
Do you really know your greatest school security liabilities?
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