Back to School: Security Officials Explain What Works for Them
Preparing for the first few weeks of school makes things a lot easier once classes start.
The summer months represent a change of speed for K-12 school security professionals’ every day operations. Although concerns about crimes such as vandalism and vagrancy may increase at this time, the summer typically provides officials with a chance to regroup.
This can include renewing training certifications, reviewing plans, attending security conferences and of course taking some much-deserved vacation time.
To describe the back to school transition from a school security standpoint, Campus Safety spoke with Kevin Wren, the Director of Risk, Security and Emergency Management at Rock Hill School District (S.C.) and Guy Grace, the Director of Security and Emergency Planning for Littleton Public Schools (Colo.).
Productive Summers Improve School Security
Wren says during the school year officials are focused on putting out “daily fires”, while the summer is an opportunity to prepare for next year’s fires.
Each summer Rock Hill officials review their emergency protocols with local law enforcement agencies and the county’s emergency management team to make sure everything is up to date. This summer, for instance, Wren says the district implemented a new family reunification plan.
Rock Hill also tries to complete as many of the necessary construction projects as possible while students aren’t on campus, so Wren plays a sort of project manager role to ensure everything is ready for back to school time.
Littleton Public School officials also reevaluate emergency response plans and push construction projects over the summer, but things are made more difficult by the fact that around a third of all elementary school students stay on campus over the summer months.
One major project, the installation of an integrated security system across all campuses, has been underway for the last four summers at Littleton Public Schools.
Although the prevailing image might be of school staff members spending their summers traveling or lounging on a beach somewhere, both Wren and Grace described “crazy busy” summers that make you want to hand them a margarita and give them a hug.
“It is important to have your security technology up and running perfectly for the school year,” Grace says. “We want our card readers, cameras, intercoms, etc. running perfectly so people feel safe when they arrive.”
Guy says part of that process is telling the campus community what to expect when they come on campus by keeping them updated on projects that have been underway over the summer months.
“For example, parents and students at seven schools will return to school through new visitor management technology and procedures, so we’ll tell them that,” Grace says. “They may notice new cameras and other security improvements. I feel this notification takes the safety anxiety off of everyone.”
Wren says he does thorough inspections of every school building before parents and students arrive.
“School inspections mean checking every classroom and closet,” Wren says. “We open up every door looking for electrical closets and storage issues. We did a big push this year on how to decorate your classroom and listed the top 15 fire code violations. We also cover workers comp injury and things like that.”
The Back to School Adjustment
Wren says for the first two weeks of school he’s checking in with everybody to make sure the appropriate people have things like two-way radios and proper key combinations. He also focuses on getting school safety messages out as much as possible during that time.
“For faculty, it’s ‘If you see something, do something about it and report it,’” Wren says. “And we remind them that they’re empowered to make the best decisions for themselves and the kids they’re in charge of, so they can deviate from the plan if there’s a better option. They are the decision maker, they can’t be waiting for an administrator to tell them to go into lockdown. They need to see a threat and make an appropriate response.”
Grace has similar goals and also says he tries to get his team to make their presence felt early on.
“School security and SROs being visible is so important,” Grace says. “When parents see them they feel better about dropping their children off at school, and students arriving at school feel safe too. Just patrolling school grounds, stopping in at offices, being at schools at arrivals and dismissals. That stuff goes a long way.”
Grace also sees the first few weeks of classes as an opportunity to start forming relationships with staff, faculty and students.
“It’s very important at this time to establish relationships with key staff at the facilities. I look at this period as a get to know you period,” Grace says. “Another area is the student population. I for one often respond to schools to work with students that are troubled. We must spend time reacquainting ourselves with the students and programs that will need more help from us.”
Rock Hill has 150 new teachers entering the district this school year. Wren addressed them all recently to introduce himself and find out what drills or procedures they used in previous school districts.
Mainly, the first few weeks are spent “working through any kinks” and focusing on hitting the ground running.
“The first couple of weeks are really spent getting the school started for the start of the year and working through any kinks that may arise,” Grace says. “We also see some anxiety issues arise in the first weeks of school, especially with K-5 kids who are new.”
Training and Exercises Eliminate Back to School Rust
Both Rock Hill and Littleton conduct a fire drill and a lockdown drill early on in the school year, and Grace says his district also conducts a tornado drill with students.
“We do a ton of trainings,” Wren says. “We come up with a list of the courses we’re going to offer to administrators, teachers, bus drivers, substitute teachers, custodial staff, and we plan all those trainings for the two weeks before school starts. And when you’re doing training on-site people bring up issues and you go, “Dang we didn’t think of that”, so now you take your plan you thought you were 90 percent finished with and start adding all these attachments.”
Rock Hill also does tabletop exercises with administrators at every school.
Littleton trains certain school staff members to use security systems like video surveillance and access control, and Grace offers training on CPR, AED use and First Aid certifications, among other things.
“All staff members must also complete our Active Shooter Program – SHELTER-EVADE-DEFEND-CARE online training before the start of school,” Grace says. “Our human resources department facilitates the tracking of the training for us. However, this online training does not replace the hands-on training staff will get.”
In the end, returning back to school is only as stressful as you make it. If security officials truly empower and train their communities and prepare for everything during the other parts of the year, the start of classes is as easy as any other time.
“Our goal is that before staff members open the doors to the classroom they feel safe and are able to act in an emergency,” Grace says. “The overall message for the staff, students, and community is to promote that there are a lot of measures in place to keep them safe, and that safety is the responsibility of all of us.”
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