Establishing a secure and safe school environment
Ways to Manage and Control Student Disruptions
There are two types of school administrators: those who have faced a crisis and those who are about to. In an ideal world, one would like to prevent all school crime and ensure the safety of each staff member and student. The reality is that there are so many things outside the control of the school administrator that such a task is virtually impossible. To attempt to predict the potentially disruptive behavior of students, a staff member, or the intruder who comes onto your campus is unrealistic. However, being armed with the knowledge that this could happen to you, the astute system lead can do several things to prepare for a crisis, avoid a crisis, and preclude successive crises. Unbounded Avenues No greater challenge exists today than creating safe schools. Restoring our schools to tranquil and safe places of learning requires a major strategic commitment.
It involves placing school safety at the top of the educational agenda. Without safe schools, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. Developing and implementing a safe school plan is a critical and essential part of this process. One out of 12 youngsters who stay away from school do so because of fear. This is a national tragedy. School administrators have a host of opportunities and strategies that can be implemented to make a difference. The difficulty often is in effectively analyzing the problem and then deciding what can be done about it. Safe school planning is all about the “art of the possible.” It is not limited by special restraints or a set of guidelines. Each community has the opportunity to shape the type of school climate it wishes to create. A safe school plan, more than anything else, is a function of community will, priorities, and interests. It requires partnerships and cooperation. The components and the players are limited only by the imagination, creativity, energy, and commitment of the local community.
Crucial players include students, educators, parents, law enforcers, judges, recreation program directors, prosecutors, probation directors, mental health leaders, and other youth-serving professionals. The key questions they must ask are “What is it we want to accomplish?” and “How do we want to make it happen?” A safe school is in place when students can learn and teachers can teach in a warm and welcoming environment free of intimidation and fear. It is a setting where the educational climate fosters a spirit of acceptance and care for every child; where behavior expectations are clearly communicated, consistently enforced, and fairly applied. Unlimited options and potential exist for safe school planning. It is about the art of the possible. It is about creativity. It requires only the ability to get started.
Here are 40 promising strategies school leaders can implement now to make their campus safer. For the most part they cost little or no money. Several strategies actually will save money because they discourage crime and help to foster a positive school climate. School district leaders can use these concepts as a basis for creating their own safe school plan. The success of these strategies will depend upon the overriding presence of eight key factors: Clear behavior standards Adequate adult presence and supervision Enforcement of rules fairly and consistently Close supervision and consistent sanctioning of offenders Supportive parents Control of campus access Partnerships with outside agencies The belief one can make a difference. 1. Control of campus access.
Continuing efforts should be made to minimize the number of campus entrance and exit points used daily. Access points to school grounds should be limited and supervised on a regular basis by individuals who are familiar with the student body. Campus traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, should flow through areas that can be easily and naturally supervised. Delivery entrances used by vendors also should be checked regularly. Parking lots often have multiple entrances and exits that contribute to the vandalism and defacement of vehicles and school property. Perimeter fencing should be considered.
2. Mandate crime reporting and tracking. A uniform school crime-reporting and record-keeping system is critical to maintaining a safe and secure campus. When school administrators know what crimes are being committed on their campus, when and where they are committed, and who is involved, appropriate supervision strategies can be implemented. In addition, it is important to conduct some level of crime analysis to determine what if any linkages exists among various aspects of criminal activity on the campus.
3. Place safety on the educational agenda. School administrators tend to get not only what they expect and deserve, but also what they measure. When the district makes a conscious decision that safe and welcoming schools are a high priority, that commitment provides the basis for the development of strategies to achieve this goal. Placing school safety on the educational agenda is a mandatory first step toward safer and better schools.
4. Amplify the mission statement. The school’s mission statement should include a phrase that reflects the context in which the school and district wishes the academic learning to take place. For instance, “To learn in a safe and secure environment free of violence, drugs and fear” is a phrase that enhances the school’s legal position to create and
enforce policies promoting a safe, caring, and a disciplined school
L climate. A statement of this nature can have a powerful effect upon validity and credibility of the school district’s efforts to create and preserve a safe environment.
5. Develop a comprehensive system-wide safe schools plan. School safety must be placed at the top of the educational agenda on each campus and within the community. A district-wide plan should be established, complemented by a safe schools plan for each school site. Programs should be developed collaboratively with parents, students, educators, law enforcers, the courts, probation and social service personnel, religious, corporate, and other community leaders who represent the racial and ethnic balance of the community. Safe school planning is an ongoing process that must have vigorous interagency support. Community and corporate partnerships should be established that focus not merely on security and supervision but also on education. Plans should be reviewed, updated, and broadly disseminated annually to students, parents, and staff. As the planning process continues, a series of other positive suggestions and strategies will emerge.
6. Disseminate a summary of laws pertaining to school disorder. The summary should be drafted and developed by the district’s legal counsel and disseminated through the director of security to all site administrators and security personnel to ensure uniformity and consistency of student supervision and management.
7. Establish a state-of-the-art emergency communications center. Use the latest technology to enable site administrators to make immediate contact with teachers and school safety personnel. A school communications network should be established to link classrooms and schoolyard supervisors with the front office or security staff, as well as with local law enforcement and fire departments. The campus should have at least one radio with cellular phone capability for use in emergency situations. Detention classrooms or facilities for behaviorally disruptive students also should have emergency buzzers or call buttons. A fully computerized public safety emergency frequency is recommended.
8. Establish uniform visitor screening procedures. Specific procedures should be established to screen and monitor visitors and potential campus intruders. Signs directing persons to the office should be placed in strategic, visible locations and should be large enough to attract visitors’ notice. Visitors should be required to sign in at the school office, state their specific business, and visibly display a visitor’s badge. All school employees should be advised to greet visitors or any unidentified person and direct them to the main office to ensure these persons have legitimate business at the school. Teachers and staff should be trained to courteously challenge all visitors. “May I help you?” is a kind, nonthreatening way to begin.
9. Require picture identification cards for each student and staff member. A school administrator is responsible not only for keeping kids away from trouble, but also for keeping trouble away from kids. Being able to identify enrolled students from non-students and guests is critical. An effective picture identification system will enhance the control and management of the campus. Authorized parent volunteers and school visitors also should display clearly identifiable badges or name tags.
10. Establish a crisis response plan. Through responsible planning, many potential problems can be avoided. However, there are times when a crisis in unavoidable. A good crisis plan focuses on crisis prevention, preparation, management, and resolution. It will also identify community resources and agencies that serve students. The crisis response plan should include step-by-step procedures for various types of crisis situations.
11. Identify specifically assigned roles and responsibilities. Specific policies and procedures that detail staff members’ responsibilities for security should be developed. These responsibilities may include monitoring hallways and restrooms, patrolling parking lots, and providing supervision at before- and after-school activities.
12. Expand alternative placement options for troubled youth. Weapon-using or weapon-toting youngsters should be removed from the mainstream educational setting and relocated to alternate sites where closer supervision and greater structure are provided.
13. Establish a restitution and community service program. Work with the presiding juvenile judge and the chief probation officer to establish a series of community service and restitution programs at the school. Individuals who are involved in vandalism and acts of malicious mischief should have some positive means of making amends to society for their infractions and offenses. Opportunities for service should be developed with the help of appropriate governmental and community agencies.
14. Conduct an annual review. Every school should conduct an annual school safety assessment of its safe school plan because safe school planning is an ongoing process. The evaluation component is a continuing reality check and refinement of the safe school actions and attitudes that the team wishes to create. The assessment may reveal that additional steps should be taken to improve adult supervision, revise curricula, pass legislation, redesign facilities, or establish new programs.
15. Promote crime prevention through environmental design. Trim or remove shrubbery that interferes with natural surveillance. Provide maximum supervision in heavy traffic areas. Provide strategically located public telephones with dial-free connections to emergency services. Relocate safe activities near typical trouble spots. For instance, consider relocating a counselor’s office next to a corridor or locker bay where problems have occurred. Conduct ticket sales or concession activities in or near problem areas. Eliminate obstacles such as trash cans and architectural barriers that block or impede traffic flow as well as supervision and surveillance. Use parabolic/convex mirrors in stairwells and other locations that require improved supervision. Replace double-entry restroom doors with an open zigzag design to better monitor behavior in restroom areas. Use automatic flush valves and automatic water faucets to reduce vandalism and control water consumption.
16. Identify and track repeat offenders. The majority of school crime problems are caused by a small percentage of students. It is essential to track, monitor, and closely supervise these youngsters to discourage their continued misbehavior and criminal acts. The following actions should be considered when planning such close supervision: Place such students with experienced teachers; develop individual behavior and education plans; assign a specific counselor to each student; assign students lockers located in areas that are visible and easily supervised.
17. Carefully screen and select new employees. One of the most important decisions that parents and communities make involves deciding who will teach, train, coach, counsel, and lead their children. Keeping child molesters and pedophiles out of classrooms, schools and youth-serving organizations is a major task. Responsible parenting and thoughtful leadership on the part of schools and other youth-serving agencies should provide enough reasons to establish appropriate safeguards for keeping child molesters away from children. Increasing litigation against school systems and child-care providers has created a financial reason to conduct appropriate background checks to protect the safety of children. Some school systems and youth-service organizations already have faced multimilliondollar lawsuits for their failure to appropriately screen, properly supervise, and/or remove employees who may be at risk to children. Every school system should have clear policy guidelines and procedures to weed out individuals with a criminal background of misbehavior involving children. Any record-screening program must consider the rights of privacy and due process as well as the right to a hearing when disqualification is involved. But the screening program also must balance these rights with the rights of the individuals who will be assisted by the professional.
18. Use current technologies that promote crime prevention. A host of options exist relative to access control, property identification and supervision. For example, consider electromagnetic door locking systems. Property control strategies such as microdot systems, surveillance cameras for difficult-to-supervise public areas, and other high tech strategies may be appropriate.
19. Make the campus welcoming. School safety leadership begins at the top. Unquestionably, the best principals spend the majority of their time outside their offices. Staying in touch cannot be accomplished behind office walls. Begin the day by greeting students at the front door when they first arrive. Be present in the hall during class changes. Visit classrooms and attend special events. The way the day begins affects the climate of the entire day and has a significant impact on how it is concluded.
20. Create a climate of ownership and school pride
This may include the development a graffiti abatement and community clean-up program. School officials must work closely with police and community leaders to shut down drug houses and stop illegal group activities in the neighborhoods of schools. The local U.S. attorney along with city and county officials represent some excellent resources to cultivate. Their support is critical to abate gangs, drug activity, and graffiti. School officials should work with community agencies to ensure the walk to and from school is crime-free and non-threatening.
21. Provide close supervision and remedial training and require restitution from offenders. Where feasible, require restitution and community service from all juvenile offenders. Create a special supervision program for the repeat offender. This includes in-school suspension or a program of alternative education within the district. Troublemakers should not be rewarded with more time off from school or lighter class schedules. Their training and supervision should be intensified.
22. Remove posters from all windows. Posters and construction paper covering windows block natural supervision. Unless glaring sun or the need for privacy mandates the covering of windows, they should be left clear or uncovered to enhance natural supervision.
23. Enhance multicultural understanding. Focus on stressing the unique worth of every person. The current polarization among student groups and the rise in gang activity indicate a need to develop educational programs that bring students together.
24. Establish a vibrant system of extracurricular programs. Without interesting, positive, and challenging activities, students tend to fill the void with negative activities. A safe school provides students with several options before, after, and during school. Work with your local recreation department, too.
25. Enhance interagency cooperation among youth-serving professionals. Creating safe schools is a community function. Schools cannot do it alone. Safe schools actively cooperate with community agencies. Campus security operations should be coordinated with local law enforcement agencies. Include law enforcers in your curriculum, supervision, and crisis planning. Community support agencies such as county mental health, child protective services, department of parks and recreation, juvenile probation, and the courts together must identify students who are potentially dangerous and provide services to preclude juvenile offenders from causing further problems and assist in their educational and personal development.
26. Review the student handbook and place students and parents on notice. Ensure that behavior expectations are clearly communicated, consistently enforced, and fairly applied. School policies should reflect behavior expectations outlined in federal, state, county, and local statutes or ordinances. Articulate a clearly defined locker policy. The locker policy at each school should appropriately reflect the district’s custodial interest. Students and parents should be notified that the lockers are school property. Students should be advised in the student handbook that lockers “and their contents” may be searched at any time for reasons of health and safety. Distributing district-owned locks to students or requiring that students use only locks for which the school has combinations will further enhance the school’s custodial position in conducting routine locker checks.
27. Develop and enforce a school dress code. Students and staff tend to behave the way they are allowed to dress. Establish a district-wide dress code policy that establishes clear appearance standards for both students and staff. Gang attire should be prohibited and dress code expectations should be consistently enforced. Contradictory policies and procedures and inconsistent enforcement by staff send mixed messages to students. Involve students and parents in developing appearance standards. Students and parents will support and preserve what they help create.
28. Review discipline and weapons possession policies. Ensure the policies attack the problem and not simply the symptoms.
Clearly distinguish between disciplinary matters and criminal offenses. Identify top discipline problems and then establish a task force consisting of students, teachers, administrators, and parents to review and/or develop effective strategies and programs. The weapons policy should reflect the Federal Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1994, which mandates a 12-month minimum suspension for the possession of firearms. The student handbook should reflect compliance with this law. Failure to comply may result in the district’s loss of federal funds.
29. Provide adequate adult supervision. Young people need continuous responsible supervision. This may include teachers, administrators, parents, campus supervisors, or law enforcement officers. By all means, do not forget senior citizens. Just as many young people are looking for something to do, many senior citizens with talents and resources are yet to be tapped. Most recent studies show that the majority of young people believe adults play a major role in counseling and encouraging kids toward nonviolence.
30. Limit opportunities to transport and store contraband. School systems have put in place various crime prevention policies that include: allowing only clear plastic or mesh book bags, or no book bags at all; eliminating lockers; establishing a coat check area for oversized articles of clothing capable of shielding weapons; giving students two sets of textbooks, one for home and one for school, to eliminate the need for book bags; and reducing the amount of time for class changes.
31. Stress that campus parking is a privilege, not a right. The parking policy should emphasize that when students when drive their vehicles on school property, they agree to abide by campus rules and have their vehicles searched. Diminishing the privacy expectation can serve as a deterrent to the presence of contraband or weapons. The policy also enhances the district’s position for any legal action relative to search and seizure.
32. Ban forms of non-physical intimidation. “Hard looks,” “stare downs,” and “mad dogging” should be added as actionable offenses to the student code of conduct. Such threatening behavior should not be tolerated.
33. Train students to take responsibility for their own safety. Encourage students to report suspicious individuals present on school grounds. Provide students and staff with a toll-free, anonymous hotline for reporting weapons offenses and other criminal activity.
34. Establish a parent/volunteer center on each campus. The center can recruit, coordinate, and encourage parents to participate in the educational process. Possible activities include helping supervise hallways, playgrounds, restrooms, or other trouble spots. Classroom visits and participation in special events is encouraged. A special training program that outlines expectations and responsibilities for parents in volunteer roles can be particularly helpful. School crime decreases when responsible adult supervision is present.
35. Conduct annual school safety training programs. Prior to the start of each school year, training sessions should be held for all site administrators and security personnel to review school safety procedures. School staff should be informed and regularly updated on safety plans through in-service training. The training should include not only the certified staff, but also classified staff, as well as part-time and substitute employees.
36. Provide teacher training programs. Special in-house training programs in the area of student behavior management should be offered for teachers and administrators. Strategies that worked 20 years ago no longer may be effective. Teachers must develop coping skills and techniques for controlling classroom behavior and dealing with disruptive youth and angry parents.
37. Create an active student component. Students should be actively involved in their own safety and in safety planning, including learning conflict resolution techniques. Devise a life skills curriculum that focuses on good decision making, responsible citizenship, and conflict resolution. School violence is the tangible expression of unresolved conflict. If we can help children identify and implement constructive conflict resolution techniques, our campuses can be made much safer. A curriculum that emphasizes courtesy and thoughtfulness will contribute toward this goal. Involve students in planning and managing student events, campus beautification and crime reporting. Student participation promotes responsible student development and maturity, enabling students to be a part of the solution rather than being perceived as merely a part of the problem.
38. Implement a peer counseling and peer mediation program at every school. Students represent some of the best agents for promoting and maintaining a safe and secure campus. An effective peer counseling program can head off many problems before they reach explosive and violent levels. Students who are trained as peer counselors become wonderfully influential resources for non-violent problem solving.
39. Consistently enforce the information-sharing agreements. At least once annually school administrators should review their information-sharing agreements to ensure they comply with federal and state laws and to ensure school administrators and staff are doing everything possible to share such information with those who have a legitimate need to know. Special follow-up should be given by the court to ensure court orders and other information-sharing agreements among agencies comply with court guidelines. The student record policy should state that student records may be shared with any relevant teacher or staff member or other youth-serving professional who has a legitimate need to know.
40. Consider placing a probation officer on campus. These individuals can provide more intensive supervision for students on probation who attend school. Exercising such an option can complement the efforts of student personnel staff who then can invest more time reinforcing positive behavior of other students rather than simply disciplining troublemakers. A Starting Point These strategies represent the beginning of a continuing collaborative and cooperative process to create safe schools for students in rural, suburban, and urban communities nationwide. Making schools safe requires an ongoing commitment.