Frequently, the role of the school's safety committee is to complete an annual inspection, prioritize repairs and upgrades needed, and communicate this information to its stakeholders. All of this is essential to ensuring that our facilities are safe; however, the school safety committee should also be working to ensure our students and their families feel safe.
As an administrator, the students knew that my first and most important job was to keep them safe. Like many administrators, I originally thought that meant making sure the physical plant was cared for and repairs made as needed. Although I knew the "whole child" comes to school, and we teach the "whole child," the concept of keeping the "whole child" safe was not on my radar. However, over the past few years, I have come to believe that for children to reach their highest potential, my school had to be committed to providing an environment that is safe physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. (Kutsyuruba, Klinger, Hussain, 2015; Grover, 2015)
Doing so takes an intentional paradigm shift in several key areas. Collaboration in this process is crucial.
The familiar phrase "Maslow Before Bloom" infers that a student's basic needs for physical, social, and emotional safety must be met in order for them to engage in academic learning. Research continues to indicate that students who participate in SEL are not only less likely to be involved in juvenile justice, live in poverty, or abuse substances twenty years later, but academic performance also increases by eleven percentile points.1
We know from research, and first-hand observations, that students have an easier time reaching their full potential when they feel safe and supported—at home, at school, and at church. Their most basic needs for physical, social, and emotional safety and well-being must be met before we can expect them to excel in academic learning.
My most recent school was in an urban area in the middle of drug- and gang-infested housing projects. Our families reflected a wide range of their socio-economic status. As such, frequently, students came to school without breakfast or spent nights awake because of police activity in their neighborhood. Our commitment to helping students feel safe and have their needs met involved providing an early morning snack time for those that had not had breakfast, often having breakfast bars or fresh fruit available for those that had nothing. It meant listening and comforting as they expressed their fears, concerns, and anxieties. It also meant, at times, having an extra blanket available for a child who had not slept much the night before. These are not the typical actions you document on an organizationally-generated safety checklist, but these behaviors help the child and their family feel safe at school. It also led to academic improvement in my community.
Overall, the reporting system within Adventist schools does very well in assessing our campuses' physical safety and security. We systematically check locks, alarms, first aid kits, lights, and disaster plans. Include community members with the "know-how" to identify and remedy physical issues on your campus. It is important to continually learn how to keep our students physically safe while at school.
In addition, our school took measures to protect students from online threats. Because our students spend more time in digital spaces for schoolwork and social networking, they have a greater chance of connecting with hate speech and strangers. Therefore, incorporating ethical technology to block harmful content and being proactive in responding to cyberbullying is no longer optional. But student safety must also look at how faculty are prepared to respond to students who harm themselves, substance abuse, threats of violence, and addictions which may be even more crucial.
Schools must have proactive protocols to identify, mitigate, and address behaviors before happening and support the students who intend to harm themselves or others at school. In my community, this included:
This level of preparation communicates more than "our school is safe." Going to great lengths to care for students, and their families, not only produces peace of mind but also helps them feel safe while at school, all lower-level needs which, according to Maslow, must be met in order to do higher-level thinking and problem-solving.
Perhaps the worst scenario for a school and community to face is a violent incident or natural disaster. Emergency preparedness and response are crucial for day-to-day operations, supporting school safety from prevention through reunification and recovery. These are the emergency operation plans, policies, and procedures that allow a school to stay compliant with the conference-, union-, and division-level policies and expectations. Traditional safety committee work has emphasized this aspect of keeping students safe at school.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that students who witness or have been involved in school-based violent incidents may experience physical and emotional distress, a dip in grade point average, increased school absences, and lower reading ability. In addition, they are at greater risk of dropping out of school altogether. I saw this in our school when we had repeated lockdowns and police activity in our school neighborhood.
This was a reminder to our safety committee that safety is not linear. Having and implementing a plan to help a school begin the long recovery process is needed. Within the days following a critical incident, conversations are sure to return to the key issues above to help those affected feel physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually safe once again while preventing acts of violence from recurring.
Schools, communities, families, churches, local resources, and stakeholders must work together to ensure every student feels safe—physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually—within their school environment. These basic needs must be met before our children can be expected to pursue academic learning. With a culture of wholistic safety and wellness in place, Adventist schools are in a better position to promote the long-term growth, development, and success of our children.
School Safety and Student Achievement
by Robert Robinson
Former Principal/K-2 Teacher—Bayside SDA Christian School
1 Averdijk, M., Zirk-Sadowski, J., Ribeaud, D., & Eisner, M. (2016). Long-term effects
of two childhood psychosocial interventions on adolescent delinquency, substance
use, and antisocial behavior: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of
Experimental Criminology, 12, 21-47.
Principal: Chief of Safety
by Victor Anderson
Retired School Principal—Northern California Conference
Part of a principal's job is to always ensure the safety of everyone on campus. Administrators wear many hats and are pulled in many different directions, and safety is easy to let fall into the background until the next school-related disaster. However, there are several things a principal can do to prepare for potential disasters that will make response effective.
Canvas your staff, parents, and churches for any connection they may have with first responders in your community. EMTs, Firemen, Law Enforcement, and the Office of Emergency Services will all be potential contributors.
You should do a preliminary screening of the names you are given. It is rare that everyone suggested would make a good committee member. Ideal members would include expertise in law enforcement, fire, medical, and public utilities. The committee should be limited to a maximum of six members. More than that will make scheduling meetings more difficult and extend the time the committee takes to conduct business. It is best if one of your committee members volunteers to be chair. This will save you time and energy.
Schedule meetings twice a month for the first few months. Agenda items for your first meetings will include: 1) How ready your school is to handle the various disasters schools may encounter. 2) The problems your school is most likely to encounter. Each school is different; some should prioritize fire preparedness, and others will need to look at intruders on campus. Addition problems will include; loss of power or water, active shooter, law enforcement activity close to the school, and earthquakes. There will be others depending on where your school is located and your surrounding community.
Prepare a disaster response plan. Each situation you address needs concrete and responsive steps spelled out. Each staff member should know what they will do in each situation. For example, who will call the fire department? Where will students be taken?
Following is a list of resources your committee should be aware of and utilize.
Sheriff: The Sheriff's Department should have a community liaison officer that you can consult. They have various services that may be offered. Some will do a risk assessment with suggestions to mitigate potential weaknesses. They are often looking for a place to "practice." All this will cost you is a few hours of non-school time, and they will be familiar with your school if the unthinkable happens. There may be other things they will volunteer to do.
County and State Office of Emergency Services: At the very least, the county and state Office of Emergency Services will send you a lot of reading material on the different services they offer if an emergency arises. They also have recommendations on preparedness.
Local Fire Agency: Local fire agencies are often multi-talented. As well as fire suppression, they can usually provide an emergency medical response.
My final suggestion is many prayers that God will protect your school, staff, students, and parents.
After a Crisis
by Iveth Valenzuela
Headmaster—Loma Linda Academy
O n December 2, 2015, the city of San Bernardino and its surrounding areas were shocked as a terrorist attack was carried out at the Inland Regional Center, just 2 miles from Loma Linda Academy. A pursuit and search for the perpetrators followed, which put Loma Linda Academy in the middle of the search area and led to the lockdown of the campus, impacting more than 1200 students. At the end of a very long day, all students were picked up and sent safely home. Loma Linda Academy was left with the work of debriefing and identifying lessons learned, knowing that a life-threatening situation can happen anywhere and at any time, even in our safe corner of the world.
Many safety procedures were added or updated after this incident. We learned lessons that have impacted our safety protocols and continue to shape conversations surrounding campus safety. Each lesson learned could in and of itself be part of a deeper dive into creating a campus-wide emergency response plan. The highlights below are some things to consider in developing or fine-tuning that plan.
Here are some of the lessons we learned as a result of that experience:
Who Calls a Lockdown
or a Shelter-in-Place?
Most of the time, a lockdown or a shelter-in-place will be called by an administrator. However, we have learned that it is essential for all staff to be empowered and trained in the process of implementing a lockdown if they see imminent danger or a shelter-in-place if there is danger in the nearby community. For example, when news of the San Bernardino attack became public, most of the school’s administrators were off campus. In the high school, teachers had to step into action and lock down the school while contacting an administrator to determine the next steps.
Lockdowns vs. Shelter-in-Place
Not all threatening situations require a lockdown. Some require a heightened state of alert that provides for a less traumatizing response and allows education to continue. A shelter-in-place may be appropriate when a potential threat is close to the campus but not on-campus or when a police helicopter is hovering over or near your school looking for someone. It allows an administrator to get everyone inside without panic or distress to assess the situation more fully.
On December 2, 2015, the campus continued instruction while keeping everyone indoors, with the doors locked, and prepared to go immediately into a full lockdown if necessary.
Where Do We Get
Develop a relationship with the police department. Identify and post in key places the non-emergency numbers you should call to find accurate information during a crisis.
It may seem common sense to call the police for information when a situation is developing. However, we learned that it is not always easy to get accurate information in the middle of a crisis. On that day, our staff was scrambling to stay up-to-date with information that would inform our next steps. Since then, we have identified the numbers we should contact at the police department and Loma Linda University Security. We have those numbers saved in our cell phones and posted near our school office phones.
System of Internal
When teachers are locked in a classroom with students for an extended period of time, it is important to have a way of communicating with the entire staff that does not require an intercom. Students do not need to hear everything that is said during an emergency.
Depending on the size of your staff, a group text chat may get overwhelming, or some people may not receive a text. It may be important to identify a communication app for one-way mass communication. We started to use School Messenger, a mass messaging system that does not allow recipients to respond. This one-way communication system helps us to keep all staff informed while avoiding confusion.
A clear plan for reunifying students with their parents or guardians is essential. Every person picking up their student should show ID. In addition, the reunification process should include keeping accurate records of who picked up each student.
Some of the questions we had to ask ourselves after this incident were: How will we verify that we are releasing students only to those on an approved list? What do we do with students who drove to school? It may not always be safe to let kids drive home after an emergency.
We also learned that we needed to be sure that we kept the students behind a locked perimeter. Parents flooded to the school and were looking for ways to get on campus and take their children home. Having law enforcement present helped alleviate that problem. We also decided that moving forward we needed to communicate our safety and reunification plan to parents at the beginning of each year.
More than Just Drills,
Train the Teachers
If teachers know what to do, the students will follow. Per conference policy, we have two lockdown drills every year. While these drills provide valuable practice, a lot happens during the school year. In a genuine emergency, the students may panic or forget what to do, but this can be mitigated if teachers have prepared by discussing and practicing safety protocols regularly during staff meeting conversations and tabletop exercises.
It seems like a simple solution, but we observed its effectiveness in action. Our procedures and drills had not prepared us for this specific situation. But the teachers responded immediately, using their experience and training. As the teachers took the lead, the students followed their instructions, allowing us to keep them safe.
Also, to help students and staff remember what to do, our lockdown and shelter-in-place drills and protocols use a recorded voice message reminding people what to do. For example, our lockdown message says, “This is a lockdown situation. Lock and barricade the doors, turn off the lights, get out of sight, get out of sight.” Finally, in recent years, we have seen that our students have very strong emotional reactions to lockdowns, so our message for drills clearly indicates that it is only a drill.
Our biggest takeaway was realizing a crisis can happen at any time, and the level of threat our school may be under falls under a continuum rather than a category. It is not always either a lockdown or a normal school day. More than one type of emergency will require us to be prepared to keep our students both physically and emotionally safe. But, when it is all said and done, if we can keep our students safe and minimize the level of trauma, we have successfully met our commitment to our students and families during a crisis.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
Physical and Cyber Safety
Management and Recovery