- By Michael S. Dorn
- January 1st, 2006
A favorite slide from our bullying prevention programs depicts a stern looking British schoolteacher as she guides a group of children through the Imperial War Museum in London. In a respite from our work there, my son and I decided to visit the museum one afternoon. Shortly after we entered the building, I noticed students on a school fieldtrip as I admired a legendary Spitfire fighter dangling dramatically in an eternal combat dive from the ceiling. I quickly noticed the educator who was fully alert to any and all threats to the children under her care. She reminded me of a mother hen as she guided the children through one exhibit after another with the help of another adult. One of the women was always with the first child and the other took her position faithfully after the last child in line. A child molester or school bully would find this educator a daunting deterrent. Given the current problems with violence and bullying in British schools, it was refreshing to see her focus on the most important aspect of school safety — the close and proper supervision of students at all times.
When a safety incident occurs at a school, be it a bullying incident, weapons assault, accidental death or an injury on the playground, there are almost always indications of poor supervision of people, places or things. For example, a child in Kentucky was recently expelled for urinating in an ice machine outside the gym lobby in his school just before class. Other students witnessed the incident, but none reported it until after more than 30 people had consumed ice from the machine.
Several years ago, a child obtained rat poison from an unlocked custodial closet in a Florida middle school and poisoned more than 50 students when he laced the salsa bar with the deadly poison. In my old school district, a teacher left her classroom door unlocked and three students engaged in consensual sex in the room with the female student filing a false rape report after she began bleeding.
One high school I visited in North Carolina had severe vandalism in many parts of the building. The maintenance director told me that he had witnessed students smoking marijuana next to the student entrance to the building during school hours. He was amazed that they did not extinguish or even attempt to hide the joint when he approached them wearing his school district uniform shirt. I found the paycheck for every employee lying in plain view on the unattended receptionist’s desk near the unlocked front door of a school board office in Tennessee.
All of these cases demonstrate a lack of proper supervision of students, things and places. I sometimes hear excuses from school officials about the lack of staff, lack of security cameras and the large campuses they have that make proper supervisionimpossible. Interestingly, I have visited many schools where students are closely supervised at all times.
I was recently impressed by the unbelievably clean and well-maintained condition of a middle school in the Clint Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. The principal challenged me to find a single mark of graffiti or vandalism in his 16-year-old school. When I asked how he had done such a remarkable job, he told me that he makes sure staff are in key places at all times to supervise children between classes. He also requires each teacher to maintain a logbook and to personally sign students out and in with the exact time any they leave and return to the classroom. This enables him to identify every student who could have caused any damage to the school during the day.
I wish every child could attend a school staffed by mothers hens like the admirable and noble men and woman I have met London, Texas, North Carolina, Indiana and other places too numerous to list. If they can do it, why can’t everyone else?
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.