School Safety and Security Issues
National School Safety and Security Services supports the use of school facilities for after school activities and weekend use by community members and organizations. Schools are a part of the community and community ownership in schools plays a role in school safety.
An Expectation of Safety
While schools should be accessible to members of the school-community for extracurricular activities and community use, there is also a reasonable expectation for the safety and security of facility users by students, staff, parents and community members. Practices of years past in many schools have included allowing school doors to be open and after school activities to carry on with only the program sponsors and evening custodial personnel officially on duty in the building. Unfortunately most, if not all, schools have some level of potential risk and, while the threat level may vary school to school and community to community, school and community officials must take safety and security into account when allowing such activities to occur at school facilities.
Reducing After-School and Weekend Risks
Wide open doors and facilities, limited (if any) supervision, and leaving the school on “auto pilot” simply are not options in today’s society. Although we cannot prevent every potential crime and act of violence, school and community officials should explore ways to reduce risks and to prepare for managing those incidents which cannot be prevented. Some specific steps to consider might include:
- Reduce the number of open doors that are accessible to outsiders once the normal school day has ended. (Of course, reduced access should also be a part of day-time school security procedures, too.)
- Concentrate (as best possible) after-school and weekend activities in limited areas of the building. If at all possible, avoid having activities spread out all over the school. If you do have multiple activities taking place, try to identify ways to contain them to their designated areas.
- Gate-off sections of the building not being used for after-school activities in accordance with fire code standards and good common sense.
- Build into contractual agreements with community organizations and other non-school event sponsors specific security requirements (supervision, security personnel, etc.) that must be in place as part of your agreement in allowing them to use school facilities.
- Assign dedicated personnel to schedule and coordinate after-school activities and community use of the building. Depending upon the size and use of the schools and school district, this could range from a full department to one part-time person. Keep written records of scheduled use, contracts and agreements, facility use and emergency policies and procedures, and related issues.
- Adult supervision is one of the most critical elements to adequate after-school and weekend facility safety. It is unreasonable and unfair to rely upon after-hours custodial personnel, who are already working in the school to clean the building and who understandably lack training, to officially provide security services. Dedicated personnel may range from an overall activities coordinator to specific school security personnel and/or law enforcement officers, as appropriate. School and community officials may also wish to consider involving School Resource Officers (SROs) in after-school programs such as PAL (Police Athletic Leagues) or by having SROs involved in school wide clubs or athletics. [At one high school, officials established the SRO Office as an after school mini-substation for police zone car units and the community police to utilize for report writing and interviewing, thereby further enhancing law enforcement presence on campus after hours.]
- Build fees into after school facility use agreements for non-school organizations who use school facilities, including community organizations. Many schools charge reimbursement fees for custodial/cleaning personnel. Why should supervision and security be any less important?
- Develop, test and train staff on emergency/crisis preparedness guidelines for after-school and weekend hours just as should be done for regular school hour operations. Include coordination with public safety agencies for after-school and weekend situations.
- Conduct crime prevention, security and crisis preparedness training and awareness programs for after-school and weekend staff, volunteers, community organizations and facility users.
- Conduct security assessments to identify how security equipment may be used as a supplement to (not a substitute for) supervision and other risk-reduction measures. Such equipment might include measures such as surveillance cameras to deter and record activity, keycard access to control staff access to restricted areas, locks and alarms for high-value and high-risk areas, communications equipment for custodial personnel and activity coordinators, access to phones for after school users to use in an emergency, adequacy of interior and exterior lighting (including parking lots), and related strategies.
Other strategies may also be employed. The specific needs and actions will vary based upon the unique nature of each school, school district and community.
New School Design
Many schools are looking at school design to determine how schools can be designed with crime prevention in mind. While this comes into play largely with daytime use considerations, there are also components to consider for for after-hours and weekend facility use. For example, schools are looking at building common areas (gyms, cafeterias, library, etc.) where they are either in one general area of the building and/or are accessible from outside for evening use, while main academic area is gated off and otherwise inaccessible to those using the facility after-hours and on weekends.
School facilities, like any other public building in our society, are vulnerable to at least some potential security risks. School and community leaders cannot ignore safety and security issues after-school and on weekends simply because these are not regular school hours. Whether the facilities are being used by school students and staff or outside organizations, in the end, students, staff, parents and members of the community will hold a reasonable expectation of safety while using what are, in essence, still school-owned facilities.
Questions or additional suggestions may be directed to Ken Trump.