Tips for School Administrators for Reinforcing School Safety
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Violence such as the high
profile school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania can cause concern within school
communities, even if they are not directly affected by the event(s). Adults
and students struggle to understand why these events happen and, more importantly,
how they can be prevented. School principals and superintendents can provide
leadership in reassuring students, staff, and parents that schools are
generally very safe places for children and youth and reiterating what
safety measures and student supports are already in place in their school.
Suggested Steps to
Reinforce School Safety
There are a number of
steps that administrators can take to reinforce the fact that schools are
safe environments and increase student/adult comfort level.
a letter to parents explaining the school safety policies and crisis prevention
efforts and cite statistics that less than one percent of violent deaths
are “school associated.”
a visible, welcoming presence at school, greeting students and parents
and visiting classrooms.
a press release about the school district efforts to maintain safe and
caring schools through clear behavioral expectations, positive behavior
interventions and supports, and crisis planning and preparedness.
a formal review of all school safety policies and procedures to ensure
that emerging school safety issues are adequately covered in current school
crisis plans and emergency response procedures. (Such reviews should be
conducted at least annually.)
communication systems within the school district and with community responders.
This should also address how and where parents will be informed in the
event of an emergency.
with community partners (emergency responders, area hospitals, victim’s
assistance, etc.) to review emergency response plans and to discuss any
short-term needs that may be obvious in response to the current crisis.
crisis training and professional development for staff based upon needs
violence prevention programs and curriculum currently being taught in school.
Emphasize the efforts of the school to teach students alternatives to violence
including peaceful conflict resolution and positive interpersonal relationship
skills. Cite specific examples such as Second Step Violence Prevention,
bully proofing, or other positive interventions and behavioral supports.
School Violence Prevention
Measures to Highlight
All schools work to prevent
school violence and schools are very safe places. This can be a good time
to remind students, staff, and parents of their important role in promoting
school safety by following procedures and reporting unusual or concerning
individuals or behavior. It also may be helpful to address the important
balance between sufficient building security and providing students a healthy,
nurturing, normal school environment. Administrators can reinforce the
importance to school safety of creating a caring school community in which
adults and students respect and trust each other and all students feel
connected, understand expectations, and receive the behavioral and mental
health support they need.
Below is a list of possible
school prevention activities that principals may want to reference in letters
home or statements to community members about school safety.
access to school building (designated entrance with all other access points
locked from the exterior).
of the school parking lot (parking lot monitors who oversee, people entering
and leaving the campus).
and supervision of student common areas such as hallways, cafeterias, and
partnerships to enhance safety measures for students beyond school property
(Block Parents, police surveillance, Community Watch programs).
of school resource officers, local police partnerships, or security guards.
of school guests (report to main office, sign in, wear badges, report unfamiliar
people to school office).
plans and preparedness training (building level teams; regular review of
plans and simulation drills; training teachers and other staff in how to
respond to students’ questions, crisis awareness).
a safe, supportive school climate that provides school-wide behavioral
expectations, caring school climate programs, positive interventions and
supports, psychological and counseling services, and violence prevention
programs (bully-proofing, social skill development, conflict mediation).
students to take responsibility for their part in maintaining safe school
environments, including student participation in safety planning. They,
better than adults, know the hidden or less trafficked areas of the school
that are more likely to be dangerous.
compliance with school rules, reporting potential problems to school officials,
and resisting peer pressure to act irresponsibly.
reporting systems (student hot lines,
“suggestion” boxes, “tell an adult” campaigns).
assessment and risk-assessment procedures and teams for conducting the
preparedness drills (intruder alerts, weather and fire).
school safety incident data. Recent trends have found that school violence
nationwide is declining. Many school districts have local data that support
this trend. When possible, citing local data helps families and students
feel more at ease.
of security systems (metal detectors, video monitoring, exit door alarm
What to Say to Students
Information for students
should be based entirely on their need, developmental age, and relationship/proximity
to the event. The goal is to reassure students that although there is always
a possibility of violence occurring in a school, the probability of a school
experiencing a high profile violent act is extremely low. Following are
some suggested general key points that can be adapted to your school(s):
General Points/Key Messages
are safe places. Our school staff works with your parents and public safety
providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals,
etc.) to keep you safe.
building is safe because….
all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know
if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous
is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide
important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously
by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it
is important to understand the difference between the possibility of
something happening and probability that it will affect you
(our school community).
violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy,
sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help
make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their
anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental
illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders)
work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others.
It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really
upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has
a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive
solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning
conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a
peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot
Parents: Open communication between home and school is critical
to the safety and well-being of our students and your children. Let
us know if you have a concern or question about school policies or
your child’s safety. Know if your child’s friends have access to guns.
Keep any guns in your house locked up and away from children of all
to Keep in Mind
1. Any conversation with a student must
be developmentally appropriate.
Young children are not able to process the complexities
of violence in the same way that adolescents and young adults are prepared
to discuss the issue. Young children often gauge how threatening an event
is by adult reactions (i.e., if caregivers act scared and frightened, young
children will view the event as scary and frightening). They may be confused
by what they hear and may have basic fear responses such as bad dreams,
resistance to separate from their parent, and/or crying and clinginess.
They respond well to basic assurances by adults and simple examples of
school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked,
child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced
during the school day.
Older children and teenagers may
have more information about an event as they are commonly able to access
information independent of adults via the Internet and television. For
these youth, it is important to discuss issues openly emphasizing the efforts
of school and community leaders to provide safe schools. It is also important
to emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by
following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access
to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school
safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any
personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support
for emotional needs.
to parents about the conversations that school personnel have had with
Schools need to keep parents informed about how they
are responding to student questions and any type of support that has
been made available for students struggling with the crisis. Copies
of announcements or formal statements should be available to parents.
Additionally, if teachers working with older students choose to have
classroom discussions about the event linked to their instructional
activities, parents should be made aware of these activities and any
suggestions for following up at home should be offered.
3. Provide parents (and teachers) with
guidelines for talking with children about violence.
parents to talk with their children and validate their feelings. They
should children’s questions guide what and how much information to
provide, be open to opportunities to talk when children are ready,
honest about their own feelings related to violence, and emphasize
the positive things that child/family/school can do to stay safe. They
should be aware of signs that their child might be in distress, e.g.,
changes in behavior, anxiety, sleep problems, acting out, problems
at school or with academic work. Remind parents and teachers to be
conscious of media exposure and what they say about the event. Limit
television viewing, (be aware if the television is on in common areas).
Developmentally inappropriate information can cause
anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need
to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each
other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure
to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
student strengths and focus on normal routines and activities.
Most high profile school tragedies will prompt schools to
have some type of public response depending upon the developmental
levels of the students, the school’s history of related events, or
the proximity of the crisis to a community. Only the local school administrators
and community leaders who are aware of the school and student’s history
can judge the extent to which a response is warranted. Where schools
do choose to alter their daily routines to address students concerns,
large or small, it is important to know that one of the best ways for
students to recover from the effects of a tragedy is to maintain or
return to their normal school routines. Normal routines help establish
a sense of calm and predictability important to maintaining effective
learning environments. Schools should recognize that depending on the
impact of the event on individuals, not all students will quickly be
able to make these transitions back to the normal routine and that
counseling and psychological services should be available for those
continuing to require some support and guidance
the cultures, traditions, religions and family/community values of
students in any school response.
It is important that schools respect
the values, traditions, beliefs and customs of the students and their
families impacted by the crisis. If outside crisis responders are called
in it is important that they learn about cultural issues, usually through
partnerships and consultation with community members who can share
fundamental guidelines for appropriate interactions. Remember not
everyone processes strong emotions through conversation. Some children
and adults may need to respond through art, poetry, prayer, or activity.
NASP has additional
information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention,
children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at www.nasponline.org.
National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402, Bethesda, MD 20814, www.nasponline.org