3 Keys to Protecting School Staff, Students and Visitors
Here’s how to assess your school environment, develop new policies and procedures, and use processes to drive your security technology choices.
Students and staff will soon return to in-person learning — if they haven’t done so already. Early data from the NAEP 2021 School Survey indicates about 77% of U.S. public schools with fourth- through eighth-grade students are holding either in-person or hybrid classes. We can expect this trend to continue and broaden as K-12 students return for summer and fall classes.
While the CDC has found slower COVID-19 viral spread in K-12 schools when compared to other community places, they acknowledge that strict adherence to safety protocols helped hinder the spread. Keeping students, staff and visitors safe will still be a top priority as schools reopen.
We’ve been talking to many schools anxious about how to deploy their funding on security solutions. Schools can pick from a lot of exciting new options to support their safe reopening. However, to leverage technology’s benefits, you must have foundational knowledge about where you are in your safety journey.
Once you understand where you were and where you want to be, you can build the policies and processes that enable the effective use of technology. Let your policies drive your processes, and your processes drive the system you choose.
1. Assess Your Current Environment
How many steps does a student or staff member take from the front door to their classroom? How many doors do they touch, or high-traffic areas do they pass through? Do they engage with anyone else during that time? How do people move through your building every day?
To develop new policies around health and safety risks at your school, you must understand them from the perspectives of those who work and learn there. Begin by mapping the current journey and assess if that’s the right path moving forward. Spend time reviewing old vulnerabilities and relearn the rhythms of a day on your campus.
As you consider your people flow, keep in mind the areas where many students or staff have historically congregated:
- Cafeterias or staff kitchens during lunch
- Shared restrooms
- Guidance counselors’ and nurses’ offices
- Gymnasiums and playground equipment
- Administrative and shared utility spaces
Think about how people use those areas as well as their construction. We now know COVID-19 transmits especially well through the air — what does airflow look like in your cafeteria? Understanding your building and how people interact with it helps you determine ways to influence those interactions through policies.
2. Set New Policies and Processes
Fully mapping the safety journey gives you a sense of the rhythms from before — how old policies and processes guided the school day. From there, you can look forward by considering what new policies and processes can better serve your campus.
You’ll likely face many tough questions, but you should consider every angle as you develop new policies. Those might include:
- Should you stagger class start and end times?
- Do cohorts need to be deployed to keep interactions restricted to particular groups?
- Should you redesign how people flow in your buildings?
- Should you have exit-only areas to reduce the number of people passing through the same door?
Your answers will help you build your aspirational state — where you want to be as your doors reopen and students and staff return. Remember that you’ll need processes to enforce your new policies: if you try doing everything manually — hoping everyone will simply remember new policies without guardrails — it won’t work.
We’ve seen that happen with newer technologies like automated visitor management and screening to determine a visitor’s health before entering a building. Many organizations didn’t use screening processes before COVID, and those who started did so manually and without understanding the processes. Administrators equipped with new technology but lacking the processes struggled to make good use of their solutions.
3. Use Processes to Drive Security Systems
In the same way that processes should help reinforce your new policies, your chosen technology should enhance your processes.
It’s tempting to jump right in and buy solutions, but it can do more harm than good without clarity. For example, touchless door technology is absolutely an enhancement to a new, safer experience — but only after you determine how people move about your building and the security required for specific areas of your building. Without these considerations, you could be introducing another whole set of challenges.
Once you’ve established where you want to be, security technology can help get you there. Symptom screening, such as thermal monitoring or temperature reading, can assess staff and visitor temperatures to help determine whether they should be allowed to enter. Automated health surveys completed at home can ensure people entering your school are feeling well and visitors can be registered for their meeting or task without waiting in the main lobby. And once on-site and inside, contact tracing badges can encourage social distancing between staff members during the school day — and, should an outbreak occur, provide valuable data to trace viral spread.
Technology is a tool to help achieve safer schools, but like any tool, know how to wield it effectively before using it. Grounded by a solid foundation of your school and its needs, you can choose the best tools for the job and protect your people.
Ask Questions, Dig Deep and Develop a Good Foundation
We’re excited to see the journey unfold, and we know schools face plenty of challenging questions as they reopen. You’re already asking the right questions, so dig deeper as you develop new policies and processes. Then ensure you can support them before investing in new technology.
And when you’re ready to add or upgrade technology, rely on your security partner to help you match solutions to your school’s individual needs. A solid foundation will lead to successful reopening and healthy students and staff the whole school year long.
Kyle Gordon is Vice President Sales and Marketing at STANLEY Security.
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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!