School districts need to emphasize the importance of effective school safety practices and evaluate practices that are currently in place.
School administrators described the best safety practices at Saturday’s session “Developing a Comprehensive Approach to School Safety” at the AASA national conference in San Diego.
The school district administrators on the panel suggested strategies for constructive school security, including the development of safety and evacuation plans, and the employment of school security such as resource officers. The plans are designed to anticipate costs and which resources they need to dedicate to safety.
“Safety plans are often a reactionary thing. This is a harmful practice, and absolutely the wrong time to try and do something about it. That's why we plan, and then we practice. It's proving to be very effective,” Susan Groundwater, research director at Hanover Research in Arlington, Va.
Attendees were encouraged to build relationships with their district communities to create safety plans that will make both children and their parents feel safe. The Iowa City Community School District’s goal is to “have a community that understands the issue and be a part of the solution,” but still keep students safe, said Stephen Murley, superintendent of Iowa City Community School District in Iowa City, Iowa.
The administrators said districts can examine other websites and studies when assessing their safety plans but encouraged them to focus on plans that meet their own community’s needs.
“People think things like security breaches can never happen where they are,” Murley said. “They don’t understand that we as educators have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep kids safe.”
Groundwater agreed. “We know we can make them safe, but the important thing to ask is how we can make them feel safe,” she said. “We’ll know if we’re successful when all students, regardless of background and culture, feel safe and secure.”
The school administrators also advised that districts should consider mental health as an issue of student safety. It is also important to draw the distinction between “being safe and feeling safe,” Murley said.
The speakers suggested using surveys and focus groups as effective ways to determine public opinion on district safety policies, which in turn help administration to evaluate safety policies.
“There's no magic wand, and never an easy solution, but safety is something we can only achieve together,” Groundwater said.
(Alexa Vazquez is a sophomore at Bonita Vista High and an intern for AASA’s Conference Daily.)