The School Safety Assessment found that the most common safety issues involve inadequate supervision of students, bullying and harassment, building access control and inadequate emergency communication.
Access control, communication, monitoring and surveillance, training and education, policies and procedures all work together to create a safe, cohesive environment. Overlooking even one of these areas could lead to a fatal incident.
Check out our K-12 School Safety Cheat Sheet for a downloadable, printable version of this school safety tip guide.
Use this list of practical school safety tips to make sure you’re not forgetting a vital part of your safety and security efforts.
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Install Security Systems
According to the Department of Justice, more than 98 per cent of schools have some kind of security technology to keep students safe.
An effective security system is made up of numerous tools such as intrusion detection, panic buttons, mechanical security hardware and adequate signage. These tools, while effective on their own, work best when implemented together.
Set Up Surveillance Cameras
Improve school safety by installing surveillance cameras both inside and outside the building.
Surveillance cameras offer you the chance to monitor staff, students and visitors as they enter or exit the building and walk the halls. And, as an added bonus, the mere presence of video cameras can deter bad behavior.
Surveillance cameras aren’t always enough. Sometimes, depending on the location or the time of day, having a physical person stand guard will be more effective in maintaining safety than a video camera.
Use Metal Detectors
For some schools, metal detectors might be the best way to keep staff and students safe.
Metal detectors don’t have to be a permanent addition to your school, in fact, they’re often used as a temporary solution or a last resort. So, like all these tips, weigh the pros and cons.
Lighting is one of the most commonly overlooked safety features in a school. If there is a certain location more prone to slips, falls or violence, adding permanent or motion-sensing lights can be an effective solution.
Put Up Fences
Fences are simple, yet effective, in keeping young students safe. Fences limit the chances of a student wandering off, getting lost or being lured off of school grounds.
Appropriate fences will also help keep intruders off school property.
Gates add an extra layer of security without compromising the movement of students in and out of the school.
Keep gates locked during school and in the evening but open them during high-traffic times at the start and end of the school day.
Manage Visitors Effectively
A strong visitor authorization process will make sure that any visitor to the school is adequately identified, tracked and monitored. Allowing visitors to come and go as they please without any sort of tracking system can be dangerous for everyone in the school.
Fire Drill Procedure
To ensure the safety of your students, it’s important to have a comprehensive, well-known fire drill procedure.
For your procedure to be effective in keeping students safe, use designated alarm sounds to communicate that there is a fire. Have all teachers study the evacuation map so they know the correct exit route.
Disaster Drill Procedure
Natural disasters strike at any time, even when school is in session. Create a process that ensures the school is properly informed when there is a natural disaster watch.
Designate a natural disaster watch person who will monitor weather conditions in case it evolves into a warning. If it does, then it’s time to move students into safe areas.
Lockdown procedures are reserved for maintaining safety when there is an immediate threat to those in the school.
The procedure should explain how building occupants will be notified of a lockdown. Outline how to stay safe no matter the location. What should the student do if they’re in the bathroom, gym, cafeteria or hallway?
Create “Safety Folders”
Every classroom should have a safety folder.
This folder will contain general resources, such as school-wide safety procedures and basic first aid guidance. It should also contain individual classroom information, including directions to the nearest emergency exit.
A Central Reporting Mechanism
This year, implement a central reporting mechanism that anyone can use to submit a tip.
Your mechanism can be as formal as an online web form or as informal as an anonymous tip box. It’s the availability, not the method, that matters most.
Case Management Software
Case management software helps keep schools safe by reducing the time and effort required to investigate safety-related incidents.
The system stores all the data you enter in one place for cases including student and staff misconduct, slips and falls, bus accidents, suspicious visitors and more.
Download our eBook, Keeping K-12 Schools Safe, to learn why officials across the country have turned to case management software to make their schools safer.
Groups and Clubs
Create groups or clubs for students to join. Groups help students find like-minded peers with whom they can build a friendship and a connection. Students who feel involved are generally happier, more trusting and supportive, and less likely to engage in dangerous behavior.
Another way to keep schools safer is to promote and encourage safety in class.
Have teachers incorporate a lot of group work, games and bonding activities into the class schedule to help students build positive, trusting relationships with both their peers and with teachers.
School-wide initiatives can be just as effective as in-class initiatives in promoting safety. Create posters explaining the new initiative or explain it on the morning announcements.
Create programs that combat the unique safety issues you’re having. For example, a “kids’ breakfast club” will encourage bonding (and healthy eating), and a “see something, say something” strategy will fight against bullying.
After-school programs are a great way to keep students, especially high-risk ones, busy and out of trouble.
The hours after school has ended and before parents get home from work are when a lot of disturbances seem to occur. So, if students are enrolled in after-school programs during this time, there is less opportunity for them to find trouble.
For Faculty and Staff
Teach the adults in your school the basics: the warning signs to look for, how to assess threats, how to report concerns to parents and how to defuse violent situations.
Faculty not sure how to discuss bullying with parents? Download the cheat sheet: The Busy Teacher’s Guide to Talking to Parents About Bullying.
Educate students on the difference between snitching and reporting, how to report their concerns and the harm of being a bystander.
Explain to parents how and when to speak with someone if they have concerns, suspicions or any information the school should know about.
One of the best ways to educate staff and students on safety is to practice.
Conduct regular fire, lockdown and disaster drills throughout the year. Give those in the school a chance to practice the drill process without the extreme stress of a real threat.
Regularly Update School Policies
Frequently update school safety policies to reflect new technologies, new initiatives and new processes.
Provide Frequent Safety Training
Keep knowledge and procedures fresh for your staff and students with frequent training. The better staff knows the warning signs of violence, the greater the chance they’ll intervene before it’s too late.
Assess Equipment Safety
Regularly assess the state of the school’s equipment to ensure everything is safe and in good working order.
Do safety checks on playground equipment, gym equipment, carbon monoxide alarms, fire alarms, door locks, heating and cooling systems and the kitchen appliances in the cafeteria.
Keep Safety Resources Stocked
Band-Aids and ice packs go missing all the time. Conduct monthly counts of first aid kits and ensure they’re fully stocked for when a safety incident does occur.
Threat Assessment Team
Create a threat assessment team who will be responsible for receiving concerns and assessing the risk.
Borrow this free K-12 School Threat Assessment Template for the team to use.
Round up an Investigation Team. This team will investigate safety concerns, collect evidence and conduct interviews.
Designate one or two school staff members to be the “support team”. They will be responsible for helping victims and witnesses find appropriate support services.
Risk Management Team
Create a risk management team who will take the lead on identifying and managing risks to staff and students and mitigating harm.
Since knowledge is such an important part of promoting school safety, develop an education team who can take the lead on training. Their role will be to identify and fill gaps in awareness.
Track At-Risk Students
To keep your school safe, identify and monitor at-risk students. Offer support and redirection before the problem escalates.
Monitor Trends Within Your School
Use case management software to track trends within your school. If there’s been a rise in the number of falls outside of Building B, add more lighting or signage to “watch your step”.
Prepare for Trends Across Schools
Also, use case management software to track trends across your school district. If most of the schools are experiencing a new problem with cyberbullying, you can be fairly sure your school is next. Get ahead of the issue and keep students safe by tracking trends across the district.
Keep an “Allergy List”
Another frequently overlooked safety strategy deals with allergies. Document and maintain staff and student allergies on a list easily accessible throughout the building.
While an allergy list can help staff proactively avoid an incident, prepare for the worst as well. Keep allergy medication, such as antihistamines and EpiPens, widely available (to adults).
Provide Support Services
To improve school safety, and to prevent future incidents, it’s important to support victims who come forward. If a student is injured on the playground and comes to a teacher for support but receives little response, the student will be unlikely to seek out help again.
Ensure that students feel comfortable coming forward and receive the support they expect by offering exceptional support services.
Offer Conflict Resolution
Offering informal conflict resolution options can stop violent issues from escalating and prevent further conflict from developing.
The five most common resolution strategies include: accommodating, avoiding, compromising, collaborating and competing.
For more information about conflict resolution strategies, download the cheat sheet: Conflict Resolution Cheat Sheet.
Counsel At-Risk Individuals
Another type of support that can improve school safety is counseling at-risk students or faculty.
In the past decade, most students who committed fatal school attacks:
- Were badly bullied by others
- Had a history of disciplinary trouble
- Behaved in a way that concerned others
Create an individualized plan and provide more guidance for those who exhibit warning signs. By providing resources or additional monitoring, you can reduce the risk this person will engage in violence against others or themselves.
For more detailed tips about investigating safety incidents effectively, visit our guide: Conducting School Investigations: Step-by-Step.
Acknowledge reports and begin to investigate immediately.
Pick the Right Investigator
Depending on the incident or complaint, you may need to bring in a third-party investigator or someone detached from the situation.
Track and document everything, from the first tip to the final report.
Collect physical and digital evidence right away, before the scene is disturbed (or deleted).
Interview the victim, perpetrator (if possible) and witnesses.
Make sure the repercussions fit the crime.
Ensure that the problem has been resolved and there is no need for further action.
With Neighboring Families
Experts recommend using a “community systems approach” to keep schools safe. Those who live in the community around the school may have information on student behaviors or actions that will help to identify risks, threats and dangers to school safety.
With Neighboring Businesses
Build a relationship with the businesses around your school so they know of your safety efforts. Having a partnership means business owners will be more likely to reach out if they overhear a concerning discussion between students over lunch.
With the Local Police
Promote safety by building a relationship with local law enforcement and encouraging their presence in the school. Ask the sheriff to come in and speak to students about bus safety. Or, ask that an officer help with chaperoning events.
With Youth Services
Schools are better able to support their students when they know the youth services and resources that are available. Build a partnership with nearby youth programs to create a safer, more supportive environment at your school.
School safety is an ever-changing process. There will always be new students, new faculty and new situations. That’s why it’s important to set time aside after every incident (or every couple of months) to reflect and learn from mistakes that were made.
It’s one thing to acknowledge that there were a lot of issues with substance use at the school dance over the holidays. It’s another to acknowledge the lack of security was a mistake.
Carry Out Changes
Once you’ve acknowledged the school’s safety mistake, it’s just as important to brainstorm changes to fix the issue and carry them out. Don’t let fixes fall between the cracks.
Without making any changes you’ll only repeat the same mistake, and next time there might be an injury or a lawsuit involved for your negligence.
If you’ve made changes, don’t just forget about it and hope for the best. Track the situation to make sure that your fix is working and not making the problem worse.
For example, say you hired additional security guards for the spring formal dance to combat the drinking that occurs. How many reports of substance use were made this time? How does that compare to the winter dance when you realized there was an issue? Did the presence of security guards drive complacency among the supervising school staff and result in higher incidences of substance use?
Portable classrooms are often a last-minute, temporary addition to rapidly growing schools. Because of the nature of their job, portables require special attention to keep them safe.
Make sure to only purchase portables with good structural integrity and that comply with local building codes. Should a safety incident occur, such as a lockdown or natural disaster, it’s vital that the safety of those in the portable is prioritized the same as the safety of those in the main building.
Access and Functional Needs
Safety teams often neglect to check emergency and secondary exits for portables because of their size and the fact that they are separate from the main school building. Make sure that your portables have adequate emergency exits that meet accessibility requirements.
Drills and Response
Portables, even temporary ones, require emergency operations plans. These plans must be just as detailed as those made for classrooms in the main school building. Make sure portables are labeled (even simply “Portable 1” and “Portable 2”).
Since portables don’t offer sufficient protection from severe weather, Texas School Safety Center recommends putting provisions in place to move students into a safer area within a permanent structure.
Make sure students and staff in portables are just as safe as those in the main area by providing strong communications between buildings. Periodically test telephones and PA systems to make sure they will work in an emergency.
Schools and school districts that plan, document and communicate safety measures are better prepared and protected when emergencies arise.