SCHOOL SECURITY: A K-12 APPROACH

Keeping All Campuses Safe

This guide provides a thorough approach for assessing K-12 school safety and managing risks associated with schools’ operations. Schools should consider all aspects related to campus operations, including buildings, locations, and other conditions that may affect student and staff wellbeing. A comprehensive risk management program includes an analysis of potential threats, vulnerabilities, and opportunities; a mitigation plan; and a communication plan. The plan addresses issues such as threat assessments, access controls, fire suppression systems, and other critical components.

Below are a list of things to consider when creating a comprehensive school security program. It then discusses each of these topics, explaining why they’re important and how they affect school safety. The goal of this guide is to create a secure environment for all students, their families, and faculty. When school safety is prioritized, all surrounding areas thrive including public safety and general community wellbeing.

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Threat Assessment to Enhance School Security

K-12 schools are responsible for ensuring student’s safety by taking proactive steps to target potential threats.  They must take measures to ensure a safe environment from violent attacks and other forms of harmful behavior— in fact, schools are required to do so under federal law. However, it’s difficult for both private and public schools to identify which types of threats exist within their communities without the proper research and tools. As a result, schools often struggle to effectively identify and mitigate those threats. Luckily, there is a solution in the form of assessments from security professionals. 

A threat assessment model allows schools to identify potential school safety issues and determine if there are any specific actions they could take to reduce the chances of an incident happening. Understanding the nature of threats helps schools better protect students from violent attacks, whether it be through school safety policies or direct action through law enforcement agencies. This guide provides advice on why schools need a risk analysis and how to properly conduct one.

The threat assessment model is built upon the research of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Researchers at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) discovered that many schools lacked sufficient resources to perform a thorough threat assessment. For example, most schools don’t employ trained professionals that can efficiently conduct such an analysis. Others lack adequate funding to hire the proper professionals, such as school resource officers. Some schools lack the necessary technological infrastructure to collect the data. School systems across the country would greatly benefit from investing in the proper resources to prioritize safety.

Active Shooter Preparedness, Security, and Resilience

The Uvalde Independent School District (ISD) in Texas had one of the worst mass shooting incidents in recent history on May 24, 2022, where a former student entered the high schoolyard armed with a firearm and killed 19 students, 2 teachers and injured 17 others. To respond to the tragedy, the district implemented several measures to ensure the safety of students and staff from any future school shootings. These include enhancing security procedures, increasing police/security presence, installing surveillance cameras, and providing mental health services.

Responses such as the one in Uvalde generate a future culture of safety, utilizing the proper resources to keep campuses safe and bring peace of mind to students, their families, and school leaders.

Key Considerations

A threat assessment process identifies if there is a range of concerning behaviors that occur within a school community, ranging from those that aren’t threatening and nonviolent to those that are potentially damaging to students themselves or to other people. Behaviors include bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, drug/alcohol misuse, suicide attempt, physical assault, sexual misconduct, etc. Although most of these behaviors fall into the unacceptable and inappropriate categories, some are less serious, and do not present any risks to the safety of students. However, even though these behaviors may not be deemed dangerous, they can impact a student’s learning and wellbeing in school. 

Schools should be prepared for intervention at an early stage to prevent escalation of problematic behavior to dangerous levels. Everyone has a responsibility to help maintain safety in schools. This means students, their families, school faculty such as teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, principals, security guards, police officers, mental health professionals, social workers, and anyone else working in the school environment. 

Everyone has a responsibility to ensure a safe learning environment. Examples of responsibilities might be:

  • Recognizing that children often exhibit a wide variety of concerning behaviors, most of which are not harmful or violent, but may still require some form of intervention.
  • Recognizing signs of potential danger and taking immediate action to report them.
  • Treating all children with dignity and respect for their privacy.
  • Supporting children who exhibit challenging behaviors by helping them understand what is going on around them and why.

Understanding the nature of threats helps schools better protect students from violent attacks, whether it be through school safety policies or direct action through law enforcement agencies.

Developing a Targeted Violence Prevention Plan for Schools

A targeted violence prevention strategy should address the following issues: Assessment of Student Needs and Skills

  •  Analyzing the school’s social environment and culture.
  • Identifying students who are at risk for engaging in violence.
  • Early detection of students who exhibit aggressive behavior.
  • Referrals for students who exhibit aggressive behavior to appropriate resources, such as mental health services.
  • Promoting positive relations between staff and students, and between the students themselves.
  • Creating a secure learning environment where teachers and students interact positively.
  • Training staff members to recognize and handle potential security risks.
  • Establishing policies and procedures for responding to incidents of violence.
  • Provision of support for students who experience bullying or victimization.
  • Establishing a system for reporting incidents of violence.

Each type of security requires a threat assessment that is unique to that location, the situation, and a number of other variables.

Developing and Training on Reporting System

Establishing and maintaining a central system for tracking incidents is one way to create a safe workplace and learning environment. This includes having a reporting system in place to ensure that everyone knows how to use it, understands what is required of them, and feels comfortable using it. Individual public schools, private schools, and even entire districts can create a reporting system that is accessible to anyone that needs such resources. 

You need to develop and maintain a central reporting system. Everyone should have the ability to anonymously report issues without fear of reprisals. Employees should be trained to use the system and report properly. They should also be taught to look out for any potential issues and act appropriately. Lastly, the whole organization should get access to the system so that they know how to use it and feel comfortable using it.

Individual public schools, private schools, and even entire districts can create a reporting system that is accessible to anyone that needs such resources.

Determine when Law Enforcement Intervention is Necessary

Schools must include everyone involved in order to prevent targeted violence. This includes parents, educators, school officials, guidance counselors, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and others. 

Before students turn into violent offenders, schools need to develop an effective strategy for addressing their behavioral issues. Schools should work closely with security experts and law enforcement agencies to identify threats to student safety. 

Aggressive students should always be referred to outside agencies, including counselors and police officers, in order to minimize the possibility of acts of violence. Schools should ensure that they don’t stigmatize students who act aggressively. Schools should instead focus on identifying students who require extra assistance and provide them with the necessary support.

Programs aimed at preventing bullying should focus on helping children develop good social skills. These programs should help children learn how to resolve conflicts without violence and provide guidance about how not to become victimized by bullies.

Develop a Risk Management Course of Action

Identifying risk factors, developing effective strategies to minimize them, and preparing for future incidents will help schools be better prepared for future events. You need to assess risks and develop an individualized plan for every risk. It’s important to contact local authorities immediately if there is any evidence that someone may be planning an attack. Finally, teach students about the potential dangers of their actions and encourage them to report anything they see to authorities. 

Furthermore, talk to your principal about what actions you can take to ensure your schools have a comprehensive crisis response strategy in place.

Creating & Fostering a Safe School Environment

It’s essential for children’s mental health and academic success to be in an environment that prioritizes school safety and security. When kids feel safe in their schools, they’re less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse or bullying. They’re also less likely to drop out of school, fail classes, and struggle academically. Research shows that students who feel safe in their schools tend to do better academically and are more motivated to learn. 

Teachers must encourage an open dialogue between themselves, their students, and their peers. By doing so, they prevent problems from occurring by allowing them to identify potential dangers early on. If the teacher learns that their students don’t understand how to express themselves, they may suggest alternatives for improvement.

One of the best ways to promote safe schools is by developing strong communities. Communities provide a supportive environment where students feel comfortable reporting incidents and establishing norms around acceptable behavior. These norms help people get along better by reducing conflict and increasing cooperation. A strong community fosters trust among its members which makes it easier for them to handle any issues that may arise. 

With help from parents and teachers, schools can develop strategies to ensure a safe school climate. Teachers can partner with parents to talk about what creates a healthy family life and how they can work together to provide a safe school for children. 

Finally, teachers can encourage a safe school environment by developing strong relationships with students and colleagues. A respectful approach allows people to express themselves freely without fear of negative consequences. An empathetic attitude helps others understand one another and reduce prejudice.

Research shows that students who feel safe in their schools tend to do better academically and are more motivated to learn. 

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