While school safety is at the forefront of many discussions as we return to school and are now fully involved in the everyday school activities, now is also the time to ask ourselves; Are our school safety policies an Asset or a Liability? With 34 years in law enforcement, and 9 years of experience managing large-scale emergencies and crisis response, I can speak on the importance of aligning policies with actions and priorities.
So that we are perfectly clear; an asset is something that works for us and protects us, while a liability is something that works against us and poses significant risks. Before you answer that question, be honest with yourself and your situation. If you are not honest and conduct an assessment of your safety policies, you are merely transferring your assets into liabilities.
Do your policies align with what you are telling your stakeholders?
Almost every school superintendent and school board member I have spoken with will tell me their number one priority is school safety. Then they give me some examples of how they have demonstrated their commitment to school safety:
We hired a school safety director.
We have an SRO.
We work closely with law enforcement.
And so on.
When I speak to these stakeholders, again almost universally, I get a different response;
We have no support.
I am expected to handle the safety of entire school district with just me.
I have to fight for time to train my staff, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders and often the time I receive is insufficient.
As a former safety coordinator, I have experienced all of these and at the highest levels of the district. I was asked by the district administrators to provide them with some safety training that would typically take about an hour to complete. When all was said and done, they gave me 8 minutes and most of them were distracted with something else during that 8 minutes. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone and you should consider your policies a liability. Meaning no matter how good your policies look on paper, if this is your outcome, they are ineffective and are a liability.
What should we do?
After every major event, we receive new mandates from the federal and state levels. When implementing a new safety program or system, you will hear about the need to follow the federal, state, and local mandates. The federal and state mandates tend to be some new action that must be taken to assist schools in keeping their schools safe. Local mandates, are those policies that are put into place to ensure your schools are in compliance with the state and federal mandates, while also ensuring that schools meet the mandates, expectations of the district, roles and responsibilities are defined, competency is defined, training needs are met, and your schools are able to respond to any emergency with confidence and competency.
So let’s ask ourselves a few questions:
Do your policies reflect state and federal mandates?
Do your policies set the necessary roles, responsibilities and expectations?
Do your policies mandate training for all staff?
Do you allow time for basic and remedial training of your staff?
Do your policies mandate continual and regular assessment to ensure systems are functional and work as designed, and people know how to use them?
Do your policies require and articulate an improvement process and a process to fix broken things (doors, windows, safety systems, etc.)
Are your policies enforceable and do you enforce them?
Do your policies align with your emergency services agencies?
Do your policies take into account your community partners and parents?
If your safety program is failing, it is likely that your policies are behind that failure. If you want a strong safety program that is an asset and not a liability, create a set of policies that help create a safer school district and protects your most precious assets; students, staff, and community.