6 Ways to Reset School Security and Stop the Education Safety Crisis
An outline of a holistic approach to school safety and security that can be implemented immediately.
The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.
There is no arguing the challenges that students and educators faced during the 2020-2021 school year. Last summer, there was a growing sense of optimism that when schools reopened in August, we would be back to normal, and things would be easier. I, unfortunately, knew differently. I was hearing from teachers about concerns around removed COVID-19 safety protocols, the growing need to address student mental health, and how the perception of public education was changing.
What we’ve seen is a convergence of these issues which created a crisis in education including teacher shortages and burnout, a youth mental health crisis, and violence at schools. As planning begins for the upcoming school year, we cannot wait another second to address these issues. Based on what I have seen in schools across the country, and what I am hearing from teachers, districts need to take a holistic approach to safety that includes addressing mental health. Below are six things districts can do right now which will help mitigate this education safety crisis:
- Conduct a full-scale risk assessment. I do not mean a standard check-the-box security audit. Make the investment to hire professional assessors who have the qualifications to review all safety and security functions. These professionals will find gaps in your threat assessment processes, emergency plans, insurance policies, training, physical security, and safety measures. Gathering this information now will set the path for everything that comes after.
- Prioritize staff wellness. More than ever before, many teachers feel they are not being supported. This is leading to teacher burnout and a potential mass exodus from the profession. I’m reminded of the safety instructions on a plane to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. We need to support teachers so that they can better support their students. This could be as simple as shifting a day of in-service training to a planning day. Do not underestimate the gift of time!
- Address staffing shortages — especially counselors or psychologists. Teachers have shared that they do not have school psychologists to assist them in planning or conducting behavioral health and threat assessments because there are too many students needing services. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one psychologist per 500 students. Current data estimates that right now it is 1:1,211 but is even higher in many states. Combine that with the anticipation of a higher number of counselors, teachers, administrators, and other staff either not returning or retiring this year and this only exacerbates the issue. As these threat assessments are critical for detection and prevention, a lack of professional support on campuses is a recipe for disaster in the coming years if we do not try to start correcting it now. We need to immediately recruit and train more professionals to assist teachers and students in long-term recovery efforts.
- Expand thinking around mental health. Returning to school after a prolonged period of isolation during the pandemic is impacting students’ ability to interact with classmates and teachers. While this is a concern at every grade level, teachers say it is most prevalent in early childhood and the transition to high school. This can manifest in an overreliance on technology devices, shorter attention spans, and even behavioral problems or threats. Until now, we have thought about these threats in the education environment in an individualized manner. Due to the effects of the pandemic, a greater emphasis on behavioral threat assessment of large groups is required. In addition, teachers need greater flexibility and better resources to deal with behavioral issues that arise in their classrooms. This will require equipping staff with strategies to change group behaviors and develop greater resilience in student populations that are dealing with stress and anxiety.
- Gather feedback after training. Teachers say they receive good training on mental/behavioral health and social-emotional learning for students but receive no time to digest, implement and provide feedback. While the training may check the necessary box, provide a forum for feedback once teachers have implemented strategies in their classrooms.
- Send staff to behavioral health and K-12 safety conferences. These conferences provide expert presentations that can help staff deal with mental health, safety, and security issues. It can also expose them to much-needed technological advancements in behavioral health, threat assessment and security. If budget permits, send staff beyond counselors and psychologists.
I wish that my intuition had been wrong and that this year could have contained the normalcy we all craved; however, the anxiety caused by both the pandemic and pressing societal issues continue to take a toll on our education system.
But all is not lost. While it is not going to disappear overnight, there are things that we can do now to help move forward in our pursuit of a normal, safe learning environment for all.
Joe Hendry is the senior director of onsite services for Navigate360.