Trends in Education
School Safety Trends
- By Mo Canady
- January 1st, 2015
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTA MCAULIFFE SCHOOL
As we enter the “Post Sandy Hook” world of school safety it is critical that we not forget the lessons to be learned from this tragedy, as well as others that have occurred since Dec. 14, 2012. As I put the finishing touches on this article, the news is breaking regarding the Taliban attack on innocent children in a Pakistan school leaving over 100 people dead. Make no mistake about it, international terrorists would love nothing more than to pull off this same kind of attack on a school in the U.S.
I am an optimist by nature, but I find myself concerned that apathy is already setting in just two short years following the Sandy Hook tragedy. I have come to realize that it does not take very long for us to forget the shock and the pain that these types of tragedies bring. But we cannot afford to forget. I assure you, the families of the victims have not forgotten and they will never forget. We owe it to them to remain diligent and to do everything that we can to prevent these types of tragedies in the future.
School Resource Officers (SRO) have played an important role in the area of school safety. As their numbers across the country continue to increase, it is important that this is a collaborative effort between the school district and the law enforcement agency. SRO’s are most effective when they are a functional part of the school safety team. It is imperative that school resource officers build positive working relationships with the school administration, teachers and other school personnel, importantly school counselors and school psychologists. These are professionals that should be serving on the school safety team, and it is important that they all work together and communicate to ensure that any effort to improve school safety protects the welfare of the child, and supports the mission of the school. School resource officers who are properly trained and prepared to be members of the school safety team are also prepared to help form school safety teams if one is not already in existence. SRO’s understand that collaboration is critical to ensuring that a school safety team functions in a successful and effective manner.
I spent nearly half of my law enforcement career in school-based policing, and it was without a doubt the most rewarding period of my career. To me, it was not just a job; it was my life’s work. I worked hard to develop positive relationships with administrators, faculty members, students and parents. I also became an integral part of the schools district crisis team. In this role, I was fully engaged in crisis planning to include prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. This included assisting with the writing of crisis plans for the district, assessing the safety of school campuses and assisting with conducting safety drills. It is important that any safety or crisis plan be practiced regularly, much like the way severe weather or fire drills are regularly conducted. It is very important for students and school staff to know what to do in the event of an emergency. However, it is also critical that these drills be conducted in a way that is not intimidating or frightening to students. Specifically, the more intensive drills, such as active shooter drills, or large-scale crisis response drills should be conducted without students on campus.
Crisis planning includes prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. However, in the early phase of my career, I did not give a great deal of thought to the aspect of “recovery.” It was not until the days following Nov. 19, 2002, that it became clear to me the importance of a well-thought-out crisis response plan, an effective school safety team and a collaborative team, including the school resource officer, in the recovery of a critical incident. On that day, the unthinkable had happened at our largest high school — one student took the life of another in the hallway during the change of class periods. This is an incident that no school ever wants to face; but because the school had a solid foundation of crisis preparedness and response, we were able to address the issue and quickly move on to the recovery phase of this incident.
Because of the schools’ commitment to maintaining a solid school safety team, the school was prepared to respond to this crisis in an effective manner. In our case, our school safety team was comprised of school administrators, teachers, school employed mental health professionals, nurses, students, school resource officers and members of the fire service. This team would meet on a regular basis to discuss school safety issues, review safety plans, and to conduct “table-top” exercises in order to be properly prepared to respond to a crisis.
As we enter 2015, I encourage you to take the opportunity to make sure that your plans are up to date and that there is a commitment to practice the plan.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.
Mo Canady is the executive director of NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers.)