School safety is at the front of every parent’s mind. Although no plan is perfect, experts agree there are basic questions parents can ask to ensure schools are prepared for an emergency situation, whether that school is a kindergarten or university.
Dale Yeager, a criminal behavior analyst, forensic profiler and nationally recognized school safety expert, says the most important thing parents can do is to ask questions of their school’s leadership in writing and ask for a written response.
“Parents need to stop thinking everything is fine and put their words into actions and demand from their school board answers to these questions,” Yeager says.
“Hardware does not stop a shooter, it is management of the school,” Yeager says. Though fences and cameras may deter some, it is the administration and staff that ultimately handle an emergency situation.
A solid plan of action, with contingency plans in case something goes wrong, is essential in the event that something happens while students are on campus. Besides just having a plan, Yeager says it is essential that all members of the staff know the plan and their roles.
Many of the tragedies that have become headlines in recent months could have been prevented with basic safety walks, Yeager says. The open back door at the theater in Aurora, Colo. or the illegally parked car in Newton, Conn., might have tipped off a well-trained safety professional and prevented a tragedy.
Yeager says security cameras are no match for human intuition, so it is important that a person who knows what is proper for that school checks regularly for anything out of the ordinary.
“You can’t heal something that hasn’t been diagnosed, and there are schools across the state that haven’t had an audit, but they have a plan,” Yeager says. “There is no school system in Oklahoma that has ever had a proper federal audit.”
Besides having a plan, having it regularly evaluated by safety professionals is essential to maintaining school safety.
“Although we do not utilize an outside group to provide our safety audit, we do utilize audit guidelines developed through best-practices shared at the federal level,” says Jeff Pratt, Dean of Students at Bishop Kelley High School. “We also have a strong local relationship with Tulsa Public Schools Safety Office, Tulsa Police Department and Tulsa Fire Department. All of these groups, as well as Bishop Kelley, operate under the National Incident Management System developed through FEMA and Homeland Security.”
Parents should check with each of their children’s schools to see what sort of audit, if any has been conducted and what relationship the school has with local authorities.
Schools are not hospitals or private businesses and come with specific safety considerations. Yeager says asking what training all staff members have is important, as is asking where that training came from. Having prevention and threat recognition training from an expert on school safety is an essential part of maintaining a secure campus.
“The most important thing we do at Bishop Kelley is to build strong and meaningful relationships with our students,” says Pratt. “Our faculty and staff take the extra time to get to personally know students and they are vigilant in monitoring student moods and behavior and maintain a caring environment.”
Pratt says a strong counseling department and student support services are an important part of Bishop Kelley’s programs.
“We also have a robust extra-curricular program that helps build positive peer to peer relations,” Pratt says.
Yeager says it is also important to ask how schools deal with visitors to campus, not just students.
“One of the things as a parent you must recognize is that threats are not just from students, but also from adults in and outside the school,” he says. “Any visitor is a threat, so you have to treat every visitor not rudely, but as a potential threat.”
Although the idea of a child being unsafe in school is a frightening one for parents, experts agree that basic questioning can make the difference.
“Don’t be scared, be angry, get upset,” Yeager says. “Parents don’t have a right to come in and tell a school how to educate a student, but they do have a right to know the plan on safety.”