Tag Archive for: school safety

Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.

Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.  

Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.

Tips for playground safety:

  • Actively supervise children at all times.
  • Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
  • Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
  • Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
  • Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
  • Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.

If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.

Now that our first quarter has come and gone, we’re excited to provide you with an update of our travels and ongoing projects from January through March.

Co-founder Alissa Parker kicked off January travels with Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin and Safe and Sound advisor Tau Braun, at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, Texas. Shortly after, Safe and Sound Schools, in partnership with the Maryland Center for School Safety, launched the Maryland School Safety Initiative. At this three-day event, co-founder Michele Gay held school safety trainings alongside Safe and Sound advisor Bill Modzeleski, Connecticut law enforcement expert Dan Jewiss, and NASP lead psychologist Ben Fernandez. Meanwhile, in the online social sphere, Safe and Sound schools discussed The Role of Technology In Today’s School Safety Landscape and ended the month with a blog inspired Emilie Parker and her love of art.

With February in full swing, Michele traveled to Illinois to meet with leaders from Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS). Following this trip, Michele headed east to Needham, Massachusetts to present on Developmentally Appropriate Safety Education before the Early Childhood Council. During the second half of February, Michele accepted a leadership award at the NASP President’s Awards and later reunited with Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Melissa Louvar Reeves to present at the 2017 NASP Conference. Shortly after, on February 25, Michele and her husband Bob attended the Champion of Life Gala in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted by the BFG Community Foundation (Safe and Sound Schools is a former recipient of the the Champion of Life Award). February travels concluded with a trip to New Jersey, where Michele presented to law enforcement leaders at the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Conference.

Other key highlights from February include the various #LoveSafety themed blog posts that captured the spirit of love, safety, and kindness. Scarlett Lewis, Safe and Sound speaker and founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, shared a blog about what it means to #ChooseLove. Mills Pond Elementary Library Media Specialist, Louise Prescott, shared a blog on kindness literature. Safe and Sound Schools closed the month with a blog dedicated to sponsors.

March may have been the busiest month this quarter. March travels began with a trip to Howell, Michigan where Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves held a reunification workshop sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Raptor Technologies. On March 10, Michele spent time in her home state of Maryland to present to a room full of Howard County school resource officers and administrators. A couple days later, on March 14, Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions hosted a school safety webinar featuring Michele Gay. Later that evening, in Westerville, Ohio, Status Solutions hosted a community event, School Safety Solutions, where Michele presented to an audience full of community members, educators, administrators, law enforcement and safety professionals. The next day, in Colorado, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on resiliency and recovery at Adams State University. Soon after, Michele was back in Massachusetts for a “School Threat Assessment and Response System” Rollout presentation hosted by the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC). On March 22, Frank DeAngelis and Kristina Anderson, founder of the Koshka Foundation, traveled to New York to present to a room full of students and faculty at SUNY Oswego. Next, Michele headed to Pennsylvania to present to school safety leaders in the Upper Saint Clair School District. The event was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor NaviGate Prepared. Meanwhile, Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Scott Poland also visited Pennsylvania to present at the Safe Schools Speaker Series. March travels concluded with Michele traveling back to Pennsylvania to attend the Safe Schools Symposium in Chester County.

While Safe and Sound leaders traveled to communities throughout the country in March, the communications team announced a new program for high school students, the Safe and Sound Youth Council. This program will allow Safe and Sound Schools to directly connect with high school students around the country, helping students become school safety leaders in their respective communities.

March online efforts continued with a blog celebrating Social Work Month, a blog shared in response to Jewish Community Center bomb threats, and a blog discussing school visitor management.

Safe and Sound Schools looks forward to visiting more communities in the months to come. For day-to-day updates on all things Safe and Sound, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Recently, a new friend confided in me that her daughter was suffering from PTSD related to a brutal sexual assault last school year. In speaking with my new friend, I could see how very devastated she, her daughter, and the rest of the family are. They are working together to heal and support their daughter and one another. Since the assault, they have learned a tremendous amount about sexual assault on school campuses and what can be done to prevent and heal from them. 

To help our communities, this month, we’re using our platform to support the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign. Observed every April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a movement led by survivors and advocates who focus on sexual violence prevention efforts and education.

To increase awareness, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)’s theme for this year’s SAAM is engaging new voices. By using our platform to address this serious issue, our goal is to shed light on school and campus sexual assault and hopefully inspire others to join the movement.

“Sexual assault victimization, defined as any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained through violent or nonviolent means (U.S. Department of Justice 2008).

According to The United States Department of Justice, “being a victim of sexual assault, especially rape, can negatively impact a student’s mental and physical health and academic outcomes.” Students who are victims of sexual assault and dating violence may experience depression, anxiety, academic failure and are at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, domestic violence (DOJ, Love is Respect). Further, the DOJ notes that “In a campus environment, students who are victimized by other students face unique challenges, such as close proximity to perpetrators and difficulty maintaining anonymity.” As a result, the majority of rape incidents on campuses go unreported (DOJ).

Sexual assault is a serious issue at college and university campuses, but what may be surprising to some, is that high schools and middle schools face similar challenges. Like college and universities, high schools and middle schools also struggle with addressing sexual assault. A lack of awareness, training, and policies are all contributing factors. Schools must decide how to address abusive behavior, protect victims, and ensure the safety of all students.

Steps Schools Can Take

Congress notes that “schools can play an important role in providing students with a knowledge base that may allow students to make informed decisions and form a healthy lifestyle.” Education, as form of prevention, can then help students avoid engaging in unsafe dating practices, including sexual assault.

Because the safety of a school environment is tied to a student’s academic success, it is important that schools are informed, educated, and ready to respond to problems such as sexual assault. To address sexual assault, schools can:

  • Identify the scope of the problem through campus climate surveys
  • Establish or enforce sexual misconduct policies, highlighting comprehensive and sustainable strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including attempted sexual assault
  • Invest time and money in prevention, education, and training
  • Educate and engage all students regardless of gender
  • Provide support services and respond effectively when a student is assaulted
  • Improve transparency within the school community, focusing on communicating these kinds of safety issues while respecting survivor confidentiality
  • Seek community partnerships

What to do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Your safety is important. If possible, get to a safe place away from the assailant. Consider reaching out to someone your trust for support and guidance. You don’t have to go through this alone. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) will connect you with a trained staff member, from a local sexual assault service provider, who will walk you through getting support at your own pace. Together, you can discuss options, including medical care and/or reporting to law enforcement. Other supportive services may include speaking to your school counselor or your school or campus’ health or sexual assault center. If you decide to report sexual assault, you can call 911, contact your local police department, or let a medical professional know you wish to report a crime when being treated for sexual assault injuries. Whatever decision you choose, remember that you do not have to go through this alone. There is a large community of sexual assault survivors and advocates willing to help you through this.

Resources for Schools, Students, and Parents

Q: I’m concerned about visitor management protocols at my child’s school. Yesterday, I went to pick my child up from school early. No one asked me to identify myself.  Surprised, I asked them if they needed to see ID. Although they looked at my ID, they didn’t verify whether I was one of the people authorized to pick up my child from school. What can I do to make sure the school is verifying visitors and asking for identification?

A:  Most schools at least require that visitors sign in and present ID in this situation.  Others take it a step further and verify your information with their records.  Still others, utilize “visitor management” technology to scan and even run a visitor’s ID through a database, which then supplies a badge or pass, if the visitor is approved.  

I recommend reaching out to the principal to share your experience (I am sure he/she will want to know) and reinforce your expectation for your child’s safety.  It could be that there is not an established protocol in place.  Unfortunately, lots of school communities feel that they don’t need to worry about this.  If this is the case, you might offer to help them think it through and toward a safer solution.  It could also be that the office staff was busy or you were dealing with a substitute. Either way, it’s important to figure out what is at the root of this safety issue.  If your daughter’s school has a school resource officer or police liaison, I would ask that that person join the conversation as well.  It is not easy to have to approach your child’s school about a problem you have found, but if you are able to come forward positively and ready to help, as well as firm about your expectation, you are likely to have success.  

Other resources you can reach out to in the school are the school counselor, and of course, your child’s teacher.  It may also be helpful to discuss this with other parents and/or members of the PTA/O.  I applaud you for speaking up in the moment, asking, “Don’t you need to see my ID?”  With this simple action, you communicated your expectation and actually changed the action of the staff member.  You are already moving things in a safer direction.  There is no firm requirement for schools to develop and implement visitor management protocols at this point.  It’s up to us to speak up and change that.  Please keep us posted on your progress and be ready to stick with it until you feel that your child is safe.  

– Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools

Update: Since the parent’s meeting with the principal, the school has improved their process, making sure school members are aware of new greeting and visitor management protocols. Visitors are now required to provide ID and share their visitation purpose. There is a sign posted on the door to remind visitors not to hold the door open for others. School members are required to verify whether visitors are authorized to pick up the child.


Submissions: If you’d like to submit a question, email us at info@safeandsoundschools.org or send us a question through our inbox on our social media platforms. Safe and Sound Schools is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Love. There are so many kinds of love. There’s the romantic love we might feel…

This last week I was invited to speak at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, TX by Coastal Bend.  I always love going to Texas, the people there are so warm, friendly and make me feel like family.  I was really looking forward to speaking with this audience in particular because of its unique makeup.  Usually at a conference, you get a gathering of individuals that all work in the same field.  This group, however came from a wide array of professionals.  We had first responders, medics, school administrations, business owners (i.e. movie theater owners) and so on.  The team at Coastal Bend intentionally invited all these different groups together because they all had one thing in common, gatherings of large groups in their community.  They understood the benefit that their community would gain by learning to be prepared for the unthinkable. I spoke alongside Dr. Tau Braun, violence prevention specialist and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools, and Robert Martin, expert in threat assessment and Safe and Sound Schools board member.  I’ve presented with them previously.  They always share invaluable information.  Having such a variety of different groups in the audience allowed for the most amazing and diverse questions!  It was an honor to speak in Corpus Christi and learn so much from all who attended.  I am so proud of the work they are doing to ensure their community is prepared when tragedy strikes.


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

Last week took me out on the road again but in the most familiar territory, my home state of Maryland.

Safe and Sound Schools joined the Maryland Center for School Safety on a cross-the- state tour of school safety training for Maryland educators, leaders, law enforcement, fire, and mental health professionals.

Our trip and our training was a gift—literally. Last February Safe and Sound Schools was awarded a grant from Maryland based non-profit, BFG Community Foundation to focus our efforts and our attention on the Maryland schools.

And that’s just what we did. Together with the Maryland Center, we launched our first Maryland School Safety Initiative. We’ve been working jointly for a year now, bringing national and local leadership and Safe and Sound resources to Maryland schools.

This work culminated in a teaching and training tour, Beyond Tragedy: Preparing the Maryland Schools for a Safer Tomorrow. We brought together a team of national and local educators and trainers, travelling from Cambridge to Fredrick, to Annapolis, connecting us with many of Maryland’s finest and most dedicated leaders and school safety professionals.

Bill Modzeleski, Safe and Sound Advisor and Former Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, joined us to moderate the event. Bill’s national perspective and years of experience in the field set the tone for three successful days.

Dan Jewiss, CT law enforcement expert, offered his professional insights on improved emergency response and caring for victims, co-workers, and self in the aftermath of tragedy.

I followed with my personal perspective as a former teacher and Sandy Hook parent, touching on lessons learned in prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. But I can’t help but feel that it’s the indomitable spirit of my daughter Joey that was most meaningful to bring to each group.

Ben Fernandez, lead school psychologist, crisis team leader, and trainer for the National Association of School Psychologists shared professional insights and experiences, as well as familiarity with many of the local school safety and mental health challenges our Maryland schools face.

Ed Clarke and Dino Pignataro of the Maryland Center for School Safety joined us in discussion throughout the day and provided three fantastic training sites for the event. Their leadership and relationships with school safety practitioners and leaders across Maryland made this joint venture possible.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about an event like this for all of us was the opportunity to engage with the local experts and communities we are so honored to serve. Safe and Sound brings national and local experts and community members together. It’s our mission and our passion. Still, to watch it happen in communities across the country and in Maryland is a great honor and a true inspiration.

Thank you to the BFG Community Foundation, The Maryland Center for School Safety, and the many professionals that joined us across Maryland.

It’s amazing what we can do when we come together.


Michele Gay, Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools

Everyone wants the schools in their community to be safe. We can all agree on this. Yet, safety is often taken for granted. For decades, schools were considered a safe haven where caring teachers taught and young children learned. Even when circumstances in the world outside were chaotic, schools were a safe place.

The times have changed.

The good news is that schools are responding to today’s safety and security challenges.

Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, almost 90% of school districts have made changes to their facilities or security policies to make schools safer. In 2016 alone, $2.7 billion was spent on school security systems. In 2017, that number will jump to almost $5 billion. As a result of these changes made by school districts, technologies are emerging to help schools with their mission of keeping schools safe.

Districts need to work with not only industry experts but also other districts to stay up to date on what technologies are working best for other school districts and what will work best for them. Each district needs to assess its specific risks, and then determine which technologies will best meet its needs.

Some technologies Districts should consider when assessing their schools:

  • Access controls: 93% of schools control access to their buildings during school hours, including locking and monitoring entrances. Except for the main entrance, doors should not be accessible from the outside. Today, technology allows schools the ability to secure their main entrance with a camera, intercom, and buzzer controlled door.
  • Visitor management systems: While many schools require visitors to sign in at the front desk, 80% of schools still use pen and paper to track visitors. A visitor management system lets administrators know who is in the building, why they are there and if they belong in the school.
  • Security cameras: Over 90% of K-12 schools report having security cameras and video surveillance equipment installed on campuses. Half of the schools without security cameras plan to purchase cameras within the next three years. Video surveillance equipment is used at school entrances as a part of a controlled access system as well as throughout campuses to monitor everything from theft to violent behavior.
  • Emergency management systems: Almost all schools have a written plan in place in the event of an emergency. Students and staff participate in everything from fire drills to active shooter scenarios.  In 2017, Districts need to consider emergency management systems which will increasingly replace paper plans. Emerging technology in this space includes emergency management mobile applications that handle everything from emergency procedures and building plans to reunification.

Like most areas of our lives today, technology can help but only if you know what works best for you. If your district or school has not conducted a risk assessment regarding emergencies, consider doing so as soon as possible. The next steps are to implement standard procedures for all buildings and technologies that help you secure your campuses. Above all else, schools need to be safe, secure places where students can learn.

Dan Trepanier serves as an Advisory Board Member for Safe and Sound Schools and Vice President of Sales & Marketing of Raptor Technologies, a national leader in K-12 Integrated School Safety Technologies.   Dan is passionate about keeping schools safe and works with national safety organizations and in schools across the country for safer schools. 


Sources:

  1. http://www.campussafetymagazine.com/article/study_shows_more_than_9_in_10_campuses_have_security_cameras/research
  2. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/iscs15.pdf
  3. https://www.districtadministration.com/article/09-dw

The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.

Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.

Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.

We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.

Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud.  Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.

On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.

There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up.  We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.  

We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.

#CelebrateEmilie #CelebrateJoey 

– Alissa Parker

Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.

As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate.  They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.  

unknownUnfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate.  In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.

1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.

2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated.  By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.

3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life.  As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.  

4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.

5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.

We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.


Works cited

Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists 

Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists