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6 Roles for School Safety Success

Kelly Moore
January 10, 2024

Over the past several months and even years, we have spoken extensively about how school safety is a shared responsibility. So, if we are going to be successful in that endeavor, we also need to understand that when our schools are not safe, that is also shared responsibility. However, if everyone is responsible for our schools' safety and the success and failure of that mission are a shared responsibility, then who is ultimately responsible?

As I write this, the NFL regular season is ending. As is the common practice, many changes are already taking place: new players, new coaches, new general managers, etc. Even though this is common practice, why so many changes every year? Well, the quick and simple answer is that success is everything. There is no tolerance for failure or loss. But, if winning is a team effort, and success and failure are a “shared responsibility,” why are there more changes? The answer to this question is that some people are MORE responsible than others.

As with the NFL, the more responsibility you have within your organization, the more responsibility you have to ensure your schools are safe. Some of you will remember I had a school administrator comment to me during a threat assessment, “This is not my job.” I had to point out to him that every other crisis or concern had to come through his office, so why wouldn’t he believe this was his responsibility? He responded that he was just an English teacher, implying he had no experience or expertise in this area. While this may be true, he was, without a doubt, ultimately responsible for the safety of all his staff, students, and others who visited his campus. This would be equivalent to the head coach saying he had no experience coaching the defense in the NFL. We all understand school safety is a shared responsibility, but do you know what you are responsible for? Do you know the consequences of not competently carrying out those responsibilities? If you don’t understand your responsibility(ies), now is the time to educate yourself and your team. How do we determine our level of responsibility?

Your level of responsibility will initially be determined by your placement on the food chain within your organization. Ultimately, your responsibility will be defined by your position and the policies that govern your position. However, look at those responsible for failing to keep schools and individuals safe. Those who were negligent in their actions failed to meet their responsibilities, and those who did not hold themselves and others accountable to the minimum standards. At the end of the day, fingers will be pointed, and individuals will be held accountable through our very litigious society.

While it is not always the case, people often blame individuals for systemic failures out of fear. When this occurs, we see the trend to push the blame to the lower levels of responsibility. For example, court cases are pending where individual staff members are being sued for leaving doors unlocked when a policy says the doors should remain locked. However, that policy was never enforced, and there was no policy to promptly address maintenance problems with these doors. So you have to ask yourself, is this the responsibility of the teacher, the principal, the safety director, the assistant superintendent, the superintendent, or the school board? The correct answer here is that all of them are responsible! But who is going to be blamed?

Let’s look at some of the roles and responsibilities for school safety. Remember, we are looking at these roles and responsibilities from the success and, more importantly, the failures of our school safety programs. Also, remember that if we are to meet our roles and responsibilities, we often have to get those above us to do their jobs.

  1. School Board: The school board is responsible for creating policies, defining roles and responsibilities, and holding people (specifically, the superintendent) accountable to those policies and expectations. The school board is also responsible for providing the superintendent and the schools with the support and tools necessary to fulfill their responsibilities and meet their expectations.

  2. Superintendent: The superintendent is responsible for understanding the school board’s policies and expectations. With that understanding, the superintendent must implement those policies and expectations. Additionally, the superintendent is responsible for identifying gaps and providing the means to fill those gaps.

  3. Assistant Superintendent: The assistant superintendent is responsible for implementing policies and ensuring all schools meet their expectations and have the necessary tools and support. The assistant superintendent is also responsible for communicating between the schools and district leadership to ensure identified gaps and challenges are addressed promptly.

  4. School Principal: The primary responsibility of the school principal is to implement the policies pushed by the school board to all of their staff. They are also responsible for ensuring they have all they need to accomplish their roles, identify their needs, and address them promptly.

  5. Teachers: Teachers are responsible for protecting their students directly. If teachers do not have the tools and support they need to do that, they must communicate their needs with their principal.

  6. Support Staff: While they may not have specific students they are responsible for, those in their immediate control are now their responsibility. Because of this, their responsibility is similar to those of the teachers’.

Our safety is ultimately our responsibility because if we fail to protect ourselves, our failure has direct consequences; if we fail to protect those who cannot protect themselves, those consequences affect more than just ourselves. To put it into context, a teacher is suing the school administrators directly, in addition to the school district as an organization, for failing to protect her after she got shot by one of her students. This occurred after information was given to the administrators the student was thought to have a weapon. Again, I will ask, “Who is responsible for this?” If you don’t have the answer to this and other similar questions, then a court full of strangers will be happy to answer those questions for you.

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