Schools are known as safe havens for students and statistically have been the safest place for them. However, they are not excluded from facing dangers associated with bullying, drugs and weapons, and violence. The following are some low-cost, high-impact tips to help keep Texas schools safe places for students and teachers.
Use a team approach
School districts in Texas are required to have a district safety and security committee that is responsible for making sure each campus has an emergency plan that is consistent with the district emergency operations plan. Make sure your committee includes a variety of stakeholders from all areas of district operations to address issues. Larger districts may want to consider a safety committee on each campus to better address specific campus needs.
Conduct a school safety and security audit
An audit is a comprehensive look at all aspects affecting the safety of the school. By training staff to conduct the audits, the district can collect data that will identify areas in need of improvement. Texas law mandates that safety audits be conducted once every three years, but it is often helpful to revisit sections on the audit annually.
Implement a campus emergency plan
Include all four phases of emergency management: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Use the Incident Command System and train key personnel in its use. Include local emergency response agencies in the planning process and attach maps of the building with information about evacuation routes, location of emergency shut-offs, and provide the plan to local first responders.
Tabletop exercises are an excellent way to test your plan and discover any gaps, training needs, or lack of resources that could hinder the campus’s ability to respond to an emergency. Tabletop exercises are inexpensive, efficient, and do not take any time away from instruction. Practice emergency drills regularly to ensure a quick and predictable response.
Control access to the campus and classrooms
Implement a visitor policy that requires checking the photo identification of visitors before allowing them on campus. Exterior doors should be locked in a way that prevents access from the outside while still allowing people to exit from the inside, following local fire code. Post signs on other doors redirecting visitors to the main entrance. Signs should include arrows, maps, or directions, not just the statement “Visitors must report to the office.” This creates a single point of entry that can be monitored by staff, who should receive training to be vigilant about observing campus visitors and making sure all visitors have permission to be on the campus.
Keep latches in the locked position in occupied classrooms so teachers can simply pull doors shut in the event of a school lockdown. This practice prevents exposing teachers to danger if they step outside to lock their classroom doors.
Focus on prevention and intervention programs
Character education, social skills, and other programs can go a long way to teach positive life skills to students before problems arise. Programs should also be used to meet specific needs identified through surveys or campus data.
Ensure that disciplinary practices are well-known to students and employ techniques that reward good behavior. Focus on improving behavior rather than punishing students.
Assess school climate
Student perceptions must be considered in addition to the physical security of the school. Students who do not feel safe will have difficulty meeting their full academic potential. Climate surveys to assess problems such as bullying, drug abuse, gangs, weapons, or threats on campus are needed to ensure these issues are being addressed.
Foster a connected campus culture
Connections to school and relationships with teachers are important protective factors in the lives of children and youth. Research has consistently shown that youth who feel connected to their school engage in fewer risky behaviors.
Every day, parents trust the school system to keep their children safe while in their care. Keeping your school safe requires careful planning, regular training, and constant vigilance. School safety can no longer be an afterthought, but has to be everyone's responsibility.
Find out more information about developing plans for your schools on our Emergency Management and School Security Program page.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in December 2010 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.