As a parent, you will find yourself heavily involved in all aspects of your child’s education, from homework to after-school activities to field trips and more. Whether focused on extracurricular and enrichment activities or just getting through a hectic schedule one day at a time, it's likely that questioning your school’s safety and security doesn’t top the list of daily to-dos. After all, it’s a natural assumption - and easy to take for granted - that the places where your children spend the most time have taken safety and security precautions - and have an emergency plan in place. Yet, this isn't always the case.
It is also tempting to put this query on the back burner. For one, it’s uncomfortable to think about an emergency circumstance. To frustrate matters, safety data and school injury records, which can reveal a school’s safety track record, may not be easily accessible-- or accessible at all. Despite these challenges, parents do have the opportunity to take a proactive role in fostering important conversations with school administrators.
Here are a few questions that can help you get the conversation started:
1. Who is the go-to contact for school safety concerns and questions?
In the event of an emergency or a serious concern, it’s essential to know who your information will be coming from. All schools should have a designated school safety contact for parents, as well as a documented communications protocol that outlines how staff, students, parents, board, and the public will receive information (ex. text/phone) in a time-sensitive situation.
Consider asking your administrators who your communications point-of-contact is before the school year starts, and verify that your contact hasn’t changed before every school year.
You’ll also want to ask for direct contact information, such as a phone number or email address. Using this information, you can be sure that you are getting accurate and timely information during an emergency and that you have somewhere to go to get answers to any other questions you may have about the school’s safety.
2. When was the last school safety assessment conducted?
Schools should be assessing their safety on a regular basis. You as a parent should have access to information about when the last school safety assessment was conducted, what concerns were raised, and how those concerns are being addressed. You may also choose to clarify whether the school has designated internal safety security specialists or hired external school safety professionals.
If assessments aren’t happening regularly or your school’s administration is reluctant to share an overview of assessment results, this concern should be shared with your school board.
3. Where can I access the school EOP (Emergency Operation Plan)?
Knowing exactly what will happen inside the school during an emergency helps relieve stress and make unexpected situations run smoother overall. Schools generally publish their emergency operations plans, or EOPs, in their student handbooks, on their websites, or have them available through the front office. Check with your school’s administration to see where the EOP is listed and then review it.
If you have any concerns about your school’s EOP - for instance, if your child has a particular requirement for accommodation such as a medicine that needs to be taken or a specific mental health condition that may be aggravated by certain emergency procedures - be sure to bring this up with the administration to see what can be done to adapt to your child’s needs.
4. What adjustments have been made to improve school safety?
Simply put, knowing that safety and accessibility measures exist lets you use them.
Consider the following:
The age of the building and structures on the school campus. Is the building old or new?
Does it have up-to-date plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and electrical wiring?
Keep in mind that some schools - particularly private/independent schools - may have their campus based in a building that was not originally designed as a school. Consider asking about the retrofitting process, as this may be a more relevant safety concern in these instances.
How many entrances there are for the school campus, and how well access is guarded at each one? Are there security checkpoints? Security personnel? Is there a visitor log?
Playground equipment type and placement, including the use of padding or chips. Is there accessible equipment for children with disabilities?
Is there an on-site nurse or school health coordinator? Where is their office?
Ask your school safety contact about these points, and if there are any adjustments planned for the future. You can also ask how you can support your school in updating and improving their safety - you may have options such as fundraising or volunteering.
5. What measures have been taken to plan for emergency situations?
In addition to accessing your school’s EOP and current safety precautions, consider asking about plans for various emergencies such as natural disasters, intruders and dangerous personnel, and diseases or accidents. Pay special attention to issues that are highly relevant to where you are, such as common weather emergencies in your area or high-crime settings.
Ask your contact about these situations and how the staff and students are prepared for them. Learn about when and how emergency drills are happening on campus; you might even talk with your children outside of school to see how they feel about these drills, if they understand them, if they know who to tell should they need to report an injury or threat, and whether or not they feel adequately prepared.
See if you can find out what the school’s threat assessment process is, and be sure you know how to report threats and other emergencies appropriately.
Keeping children safe at school is everyone's responsibility. Knowing exactly what the plan is in the event of an emergency, as well as what preventative measures are in place to protect your child, can be not only useful but a great way to gain some peace of mind.
Thank you to our friends at Joffe Emergency Services for sharing this article for our collection of Parent Resources. Joffe Emergency Services provides security, safety and medical support services to empower schools, event venues and organizers, and organizations to confidently prevent and manage emergencies and save lives.