About half of American children will experience a traumatic event during their childhood, often facing it at school. Kids may have to deal with bullying, natural disasters, fires, pandemics, shootings and being threatened or injured by a weapon in what is supposed to be a safe space.
One school shooting at an Ohio high school resulted in six wounded students, including three deaths. However, according to the school’s head of student services, their safety plan and active shooter drills prepared students and staff well enough to prevent an even more disastrous outcome. These precautions “absolutely saved lives,” she says.
While completely avoiding all dangers is impossible, having a school safety plan can help you prepare for and handle these events better. Use this guide to write a comprehensive school safety plan to protect students and staff.
A school safety plan isn’t the only way to protect students and staff. For more ideas, download our school safety roadmap.
Thirty-three states, including New York, Nevada, Delaware, Minnesota and Ohio, require school safety plans. Some states require a district-wide plan, others require plans for each school building and others call for both. Regulations also vary from state to state for non-public K-12 schools, including private, charter, technological and arts schools.
Whether it’s regulated by your state’s laws or not, consider forming teams to help you develop and carry out your school safety plan.
First, designate planning teams for each district and/or school building. These groups should be composed of administrators as well as parents, counsellors, teachers and support staff. Planning teams offer a variety of skills, knowledge and perspectives on the school’s and students’ needs, offering a complete picture as you create your plan.
In addition, you’ll need an emergency response team. Each member has a role and responsibilities (laid out in the safety plan) when an emergency or incident occurs in the school. As a result, every building in the district needs its own team. Group members can work in any and all school positions.
Finally, form a post-incident response team. This group is responsible for getting the school or district and its community back on track after an incident. Composed of parents, counsellors and teachers, this team should offer support and resources as students and staff recover from the emergency. Examples of responsibilities include:
- Providing group and individual counselling sessions
- Compiling lists of organizations or external resources for victims
- Planning clean-up and renovation events after a fire, natural disaster or other physical incident
- Coordinating fundraising events for affected families or school rebuilding costs
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Some states have specific guidelines as to what your school safety plan should include. Your first step to developing your plan should be to visit your state’s department of education website for resources.
To identify your school or district’s specific needs, conduct a risk assessment. This will help you identify areas of particular concern to focus on when creating your safety plan.
Still not sure where to begin? The following guide is a good place to start when drafting your plan.
- Maps. Include school floorplans and a map of the area surrounding the school with multiple exit paths and meeting points clearly marked.
- Equipment and materials. Through every step of the plan, list materials and equipment needed to carry it out. Examples include flashlights, first aid kits, walkie-talkies, whistles, safety vests or helmets and contact lists.
- Roles and responsibilities. As you list actions in your safety plan, include the person or persons assigned to complete them. This ensures that everyone knows what to do during an incident and that no important steps are missed or duplicated.
- Safety policies and procedures. Attach copies of safety-related policies and procedures to your plan. These should include information on:
- Parent reunifications (who may pick up each child and their contact information)
- Safety training and drills
- How and when to contact parents, the police and emergency responders
- Building security
- Natural disaster and fire response
- Responding to threats or incidents of violence
- How to answer questions from parents, the authorities and the community
- Emergency response during non-traditional school hours (summer school, after-school activities and programs, performances and other evening events)
- Intervention and prevention strategies. In addition to procedures for addressing safety concerns, your plan should include the ways you’ll prevent incidents. These might include a reporting mechanism, extended day programs and mentorship programs.
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Create a Timeline
Many states have strict requirements for when school safety plans should be submitted and updated. Use these deadlines to set a timeline for drafting your plan. Include enough time to review the draft with administrators and local emergency responders, conduct walk-throughs and present the plan to the school board.
Don’t Overthink It
While your plan should be specific to the school’s needs, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. The main contents of safety plans are more or less the same regardless of location or school level. Just add in your unique policies and procedures.
Review the Plan Regularly
School safety plans are only effective if they’re up to date. Review your plans annually to ensure they still meet your school’s goals, concerns and needs. If you change a safety-related process or policy, update the plan right away and communicate the changes to staff, parents and students.
Don’t Forget About Substitute Teachers
Staff members who work in the school every day probably know the safety plan like the back of their hand. However, substitutes and other temporary workers don’t. Ensure teachers include a copy of the plan in their substitute’s materials. Assign another teacher to be the sub’s “safety buddy,” too, to mitigate risk in an emergency.