National School Safety and Security Services advises school boards, superintendents, and central office administrators to assess security and crisis plans for school administration buildings and support sites.
Security is often neglected for school district central office buildings, board meetings, support facilities, and other administrative sites. Too often, well-intended board members, superintendents, and central office administrators shy away from taking security measures, developing crisis plans, and maintaining crisis teams for their school central office administration buildings and other support sites. While it is important to focus on school sites, security and emergency plans for school administration sites must also be a part of school district safety planning.
Potential Areas and Reasons for Concern
Dealing with irate parents may appear to be nothing new to many building administrators. There are also a number of documented cases of threatening and disruptive behavior by irate parents, disgruntled employees and former employees, and other adults who target school superintendents and other central office administrators. In 1994, a former school employee shot a Florida superintendent six times, killing the superintendent and then leaving the district’s downtown central office only to later kill himself.
While student safety is unquestionably a priority, too often educators fail to include administration office safety, and the safety of school office employees, in their risk reduction and crisis preparedness measures. Unfortunately, workplace violence is a growing concern for large and small corporate offices nationwide, and school administration offices are no different.
In fact, the nature of school operations could place district employees in a position of higher risk than the employees who work in some other types of corporations. Consider, for example, that:
- School building offices typically house the principal and assistant principals, counselors, and other school leaders who deal regularly with issues of discipline, school-based crime, interpersonal conflicts, and individual students who may have intense social and emotional issues. They also deal regularly with parent conferences, some of which may involve parents who are angry, frustrated, and/or very irate.
- School district administration offices typically house the offices of the superintendent, board members, personnel department, treasurer, special education staff, and student services hearing officers and staff. Disgruntled current and former employees, suspended and expelled students, irate parents, job applicants, and other high-risk individuals are very likely to attend hearings, meetings, and visits for other purposes at these types of offices.
- The ever-increasing political nature of school board meetings, and for that matter school politics in general, often draws a presence and attention to school administration offices and the individuals housed in these offices. It is not uncommon for highly-charged meetings and emotional issues to result in escalated undesirable and threatening behavior.
Improving School Administration Office Safety
A number of measures can be taken to reduce administration office safety threats. These include, but are not limited to:
- Develop a threat assessment protocol that applies not only to dealing with threats made by and/or to students, but also to threats made to school administrators and office staff. A number of cases have been documented where threats have been made to harm not only building administrators, but also district-level coordinators, supervisors, directors, superintendents, and board members.
- Assess board meeting security measures including the meeting site(s), physical security measures such as panic buttons and member egresss, security and/or police staffing, training of board members in emergency plans, and related measures.
- Include administration offices, both at the building and district levels, in school security assessments conducted for your district.
- Develop crisis guidelines for school administration sites as would be done for actual school buildings, including having site-specific crisis plans, site-specific crisis teams, and practice the same drills at administration sites as would be expected of school sites (fire drills, lockdown drills, etc.).
- Train administrators and school office staff (including secretaries and receptionists) on appropriate security policies and procedures, threat assessment and management, office safety measures, and district crisis guidelines
- Incorporate crime prevention into school office layouts and central office designs, including in reception areas, secretarial offices, and inside administrative offices and meeting rooms
- Evaluate methods for reducing and controlling access to district central offices and support facilities
- Establish basic procedures for conducting potentially high-risk meetings and hearings
- Assess physical security measures, including the use of security technology, for reducing administration office safety risks and for preparing to manage incidents of crime and violence in office settings
- Evaluate the contents, in addition the layout, of administration offices, as well as communication methods that would be used in a threatening situation
There are many risk reduction measures that can be taken to improve school administration office safety. The failure to take appropriate steps for reducing security risks at school office facilities may place school employees at greater risk and may also lead to greater liability on the part of the district should an incident of crime or violence occur that could have been prevented by reasonable safety measures.
For information contact Ken Trump directly.
To read more on the subject, read free-lance writer Ruth Sternberg’s article entitled “Acts of Aggression” in the November 2000 issue of The School Administrator published by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).