As a parent, feeling confident in the safety of your child or children at the school they attend is extremely important.
Among the questions you may have about school safety:
How are lockdown drills handled?
What plans are in place to help kids stay safe?
How can I talk to my child or respond to their questions or anxiety about school safety?
"School safety" is a broad term with various applications within every school. The information in this article can help parents learn about actions schools may be taking to make themselves safer and better prepared for an emergency or crisis.
What's the plan?
All schools should have an organized, systematic emergency operations plan in place to reduce risks or prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a crisis situation. These may range from a death or accident affecting a member of the school community to a natural disaster or crisis& affecting a lot of individuals in the school.
Many school districts have a safety coordinator or director, or have assigned this role to one of the district administrators. School faculty and staff are trained to assess the seriousness of incidents and respond according to the plan's established procedures and guidelines. The federal
Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans gives guidance for each type of community.
What parents should do
While the school staff has been trained and continue to receive guidance on how best to help students, the best advocate for your child is YOU! Ask your child's teacher about the plans the school has in place for emergencies such as fires, blizzards, bomb threats, and armed intruders. You can also ask how often school officials and safety experts meet to discuss safety procedures. While some schools may hesitate to share all parts of their plans and strategies, make yourself aware of the information available to you.
How are emergencies at schools are communicated to parents?
Every school has its own standards for parental involvement in school safety threats. To prevent possibly risking the safety of your child and their classmates, it is important for parents to understand what the school and local law enforcement require of them during these emergency situations.
Misinformation can easily spread if a crisis situation occurs at your child's school. Because of this, it is the responsibility of the school staff to provide parents with timely information on the status of their child's safety. For example, some schools have an emergency communication system in place that notify parents via email, voice, and text messages. Schools typically inform parents of any unusual situation that demands one of the protocols listed above. However, they may not provide prior notice of drills.
At the beginning of the school year, parents can
Review with their child the
family emergency plan, including reunification and communication options.
Provide the school with information about any unique needs their children may have. This can be accomplished by filling out an
emergency information form and working with school health staff to be sure there is an emergency plan on file for your child that includes information on health issues and what is needed during other school emergencies.
back up/extra medication or other items at your child's school in case there so your child is an emergency where they need to remain in the building for a longer period of time.
Provide the school and your child's teacher with up-to-date contact information for family or friends who can pick up and care for your child if you are unavailable. Be sure to update this information as needed throughout the school year.
Learn about the school's plan for emergency response, including parental access during emergencies, school emergency contact information, meet-up locations, and other reunification plans.
Helpful guidelines to keep in mind when talking with children about school safety
For some children, even participation in a drill may cause some emotional distress, especially if it reminds them of a prior crisis event or if they otherwise are feeling vulnerable or anxious.
As a parent, you are in the best position to help your child cope with trauma they experience during an emergency or safety drill at school. Any conversation with a child must be appropriate for their age and developmental stage.
Young children need brief simple information that should be balanced with reassurance. This includes informing children that their school and home are safe (once these are secure) and that adults are available to protect them. Young children often gauge how threatening or serious an event is by adult reactions. This is why, for example, parents are encouraged not to get overly emotional when saying goodbye on the first day of school. Young children respond well to simple examples of school safety, like reminding them the exterior doors are locked.
Upper elementary and early middle school children may be more vocal in asking questions about whether they are truly safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Parents can share the information they have about the school's safety plan and any other relevant communication to ease their child's mind.
Upper middle school and high school students may have strong and varying opinions about causes of violence in school and society. Parents should stress the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following the school's safety guidelines (e.g., not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to school safety made by students or community members, etc.).
After a crisis
It is important to provide emotional support to a child in the aftermath of a crisis situation. Watch for clues that your child might want to talk, but understand that not all children will want or need to talk about these events. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Be aware of signs that children might be in distress, such as changes in behavior, anxiety, sleep problems, acting out, problems at school or with academic work.
If you need assistance, consider talking with your child's doctor, a mental health professional, or the school nurse, counselor, or social worker at your child's school. See
Helping Your Child Cope for strategies to ensure children's needs are met in emergency situations.
Additional Information & Resources: