How can you improve safety at your school? It’s a question that school administrators have consistently sought to answer – long before the conversations heightened at the Capitol and in our communities. Feeling safe has a direct impact on the ability for students to learn.
The Minnesota Legislature approved a series of provisions in a safe school package on Sunday. With the governor’s approval of the supplemental spending bill, that aid could come as soon as the next fiscal year. It includes $18 per pupil in aid in fiscal year 2019 with a minimum of $30,000 to help smaller schools and additional funding through 2021. The governor is expected to approve the bonding bill that includes another $25 million for school safety and security upgrades and the ability for school districts to apply for state grants for up to $500,000 for identified physical security needs.
SO, WHERE DO YOU START?
When working with schools, we’ve found that these are the first set of considerations to assess security and identify next steps:
- Perimeter Check
Take a bird’s-eye view of your school building and site to identify all the possible ways that someone could enter the property. In many cases, there are natural barriers such as waterways, ravines or rain gardens that provide some level of protection. From lighting to roadways, school leaders can use a series of strategies to increase the security of their sites. When working with schools, we take a close look at the site map and review potential areas of concern. Go beyond intruders to identify spaces where negative behavior between students can occur, such as under the bleachers or behind a grove of trees near the athletic fields or playground.
- Policies and Process
What do your policies say about school safety? Do they match your facility design and current make-up of your facilities? Review your policies to determine if they communicate your expectations. Then evaluate what processes and procedures are in place to ensure those policies are met. Fill in the gaps and communicate both your policies and processes to your staff.
- What’s Practiced
A school can have clear policies, processes and procedures in place and still fall short if they are not consistently practiced. Take the time to conduct an audit to assess how well your policies and procedures are being followed. Train your team on your policies and procedures and regularly communicate them to ensure they remain top of mind. This is among the most important steps you can take. All staff members should be trained to “keep an eye out” and know how to notify the designated person in case of an issue or emergency.
- Sight Lines
The farther you can see, the more time you and your students will have to respond if there is an issue. Review not only your front entrance, but also your classrooms and common spaces. How far away can teachers and staff see a possible threat from every part of the building? To promote visibility and provide more supervision, schools have added windows or glass walls between classrooms and hallways. This also promotes student engagement and collaboration. Location matters, too. In the case of the front office, it should be situated by the main door and staff should have sight lines to the parking lot and if possible the main street. Landscaping around the school facility can both help and harm. Keep landscaping next to the building low so it does not hinder views.
- Access Control
How do people gain access to your building? This includes parents and students during the school day. They should face locked doors, be required to identify themselves for entry and then also go directly to the front office to verify their identity to gain a pass. Achieving this takes effective design, technology and the constant adherence to policy and procedures.
- Revolving Entrances
Safety also involves having an appropriate amount of exits from a building in case of all emergencies, such as a fire. Other entrances and exits are provided for recess, special education transitions and other educational purposes. However, these exits can pose a threat to the security of the building. It’s common to find them not properly secured, or to find the security measures at these entrances (and exits) defeated by someone simply keeping them open for convenience. Ensure your students and staff understand the importance of keeping the doors secured – even if it is not convenient.
By evaluating these key areas, schools can identify their gaps. Some may be surprising. Some may be easy to address. Yet, even some of the smallest changes can have a significant impact on preventing issues and creating a more positive school climate.
The current funding proposal at the Legislature will not be enough to fully address the issues schools face. But it’s a start. It could help schools fund studies to identify key steps to increasing school safety at their sites. Every dollar spent on keeping our students safe is worth it.