Many school districts are in the dark about current levels of risk to student safety. There is minimal federal and state regulation for safety incident reporting, meaning school district officials rely on government estimates and the media’s reporting to determine school safety levels.
With an average of ten students killed per year (since 1996), schools should know what types of incidents are happening, why they’re happening and how schools can be made safer.
When it comes to student, staff and school safety, there’s no such thing as “too much insight”.
School district officials who want to begin tracking safety incidents might not know where to begin their efforts. This guide can help. Read on to learn what details to document, how to simplify the tracking process and how to use this new data to improve safety in K-12 schools.
Tracking safety incidents is only the first step. Read this eBook to learn how case management software can improve school safety.
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The Educator’s School Safety Network (ESSN), a non-profit school safety organization, compiled the most up-to-date data about violent threats and incidents in American K-12 schools.
They found that, between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, the number of violent threats increased by 62 per cent, from 2085 to 3850. They also found that, between the same years, the number of violent incidents increased an alarming 113 per cent, from 131 to 279 incidents.
In addition to the data, the report suggests that the lack of reliable information about violence (threats and incidents) in schools is an impediment to safer schools. Further, ESSN argues that there is no uniformity to the information and resources available.
For these two reasons, it’s paramount that schools begin accurately tracking safety incidents, not just to have reliable information readily available, but also to set a context for future efforts to improve school safety and prevent violence.
Write better investigation reports with this template made specifically for schools.
Effective documentation goes beyond the location, date and time of the incident. While those are important data points to collect, that information isn’t enough to make improvements and strategize for the future.
Effective documentation includes three key parts: general information, personal information and incident information.
This part captures the basic details needed for context. At what school did this occur and on what day? Provide a brief, objective description of the incident.
Depending on your incident tracking process, this will also include an incident number and the name or staff ID number of the person documenting the safety incident.
This section is where you’ll capture details about the victim(s), witness(es) and perpetrator(s). Include the person’s name, date of birth, grade, gender and race. Flag any special educational needs they require.
If applicable, also identify disciplinary action that had been carried out in response to the incident, such as an in-school or out-of-school suspension or expulsion. Indicate whether local law enforcement was informed.
This section is where you will want to get into the more minute details about the incident. Provide the location and time of the incident. Indicate whether or not it occurred on or off school property, and during or after school hours.
Identify the incident according to categories recognized by your school district or state. If you’re unsure, here’s an example of incident types recognized in Alabama (in alphabetical order):
- Alcohol possession, sale, transfer and/or use
- Bomb threat
- Burglary and/or breaking and entry
- Criminal mischief (e.g., vandalism)
- Defiance of authority
- Disorderly conduct
- Disruptive demonstrations
- Drug possession, sale, transfer and/or use
- Fire alarm (e.g., tampering with, setting off)
- Inciting other students to create a disturbance
- Larceny, theft or possession of stolen property
- Motor vehicle theft and/or unauthorized use
- Profanity and/or vulgarity
- Sexual battery
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual offense
- Threats and/or intimidation
- Tobacco possession, sale, transfer and/or use
- Truancy and/or unauthorized absence
- Unauthorized communicative device
- Weapon possession, sale, transfer and/or use
To start documenting incidents properly, first consider why school districts have failed to accurately collect safety incident data all this time.
The first reason is that there are no legal obligations for schools that comply and no meaningful consequences for schools that don’t. Basically, there is zero enforcement and no accountability.
The second reason is that those in leadership roles, such as principals, superintendents and district board members, face a lot of pressure. They assume that if the school is honest about the level of crime and violence that they will appear to be incompetent and will be forced to invest more money that they don’t have.
The third reason is that there’s a negative stigma around even talking about school security and emergency preparedness. Most school district leaders believe that the word “lockdown” draws negative media attention and unnecessarily alarms parents.
Studies show that the fears in reason two and three are unfounded. In fact, the majority of parents believe just the opposite.
Use a Template
An incident report template is a practical way to track safety incidents at school because it’s inexpensive, easy to learn and easy to implement. Using a template prompts you to include details you may have forgotten.
Here is a free, editable incident report template you can implement today.
However, one downfall of using spreadsheets or paper forms is the lack of consistency. There is no warning if you’ve forgotten to fill something out and no alert if it’s completed improperly. An outside auditing firm found that many Broward County, Florida schools were not following the proper procedures for conducting “threat assessments”.
In the end, the firm concluded that the existing paper-based system wasn’t working and recommended that the school district make the switch to a digital, centralized system.
Or, Implement a Software System
For schools and districts that want easier documentation, quicker reports, greater oversight and risk monitoring, case management software is the better choice. Several large school districts, including North Carolina’s Union County Public Schools, have already made the switch.
Case management software goes beyond paper templates by consolidating all incident data into one place. That means fewer hours spent manually sorting templates to identify trends, hot spots and risks.
All schools in a district can work from the exact same system, making it easy to compare data and trends across the district. Plus, the drag-and-drop report builder lets you pull a comprehensive metrics report in seconds.
Software wins against Excel spreadsheets, too, with advanced features like secure data access and AI case-linking. Secure data access roles help you comply with complex school privacy laws by making sure only the necessary people can access documents like incident reports, witness statements and health charts.
Beyond the convenient features, software that is customized to match your school district’s unique needs improves the speed and efficiency of the entire tracking-investigating-reporting process. It streamlines a district’s operational process to cut costs and allocate resources to more significant roles.
No Matter Your Method, Provide Training
Whether you choose to use a template or case management software to track incidents, train those who will use it. What good is a comprehensive software program if only one employee knows how to work it? And worse, what if that person leaves?
The firm that audited the Broward County school district also uncovered a lack of training and communication on school safety procedures. They found that the assistant principal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was unfamiliar with the threat assessment process and the principal was not engaged in the process.
It’s important to educate all staff about not only reporting tools, procedures and roles, but about safety incidents in general. Make sure they know the answers to questions like:
- When is bullying aggressive enough that it should be documented?
- Who is obligated to report incidents?
- If you overhear harassment allegations, should you document them or leave them be?
- When should an incident be handled administratively? Criminally?
The benefits of tracking safety incidents go far beyond ethics. Of course, school districts should be reporting crimes because it’s the right thing to do, but it also leads to improved planning, programs and resource allocation.
Without metrics, it’s difficult to determine the effectiveness of a policy, progress and whether or not schools are meeting safety goals. It’s impossible to know whether funds are being allocated to the right places, and difficult to apply for grants or loans.
Here, we break the benefits down into four main categories.
It Motivates Action
When it comes time to estimate how often a safety incident occurs, federal statistics tend to underestimate the extent of school crime whereas the public tends to overstate the stats. Staff members tend to underestimate whereas parents tend to overestimate.
An accurate picture of the prevalence of incidents like bullying and violence may motivate the school, staff, students, parents and the surrounding community to take action. When the numbers and trends are available and accessible, it becomes easier to start thinking of ways to improve the situation.
Another way to motivate action is to hang anti-bullying posters to remind staff and students about the initiative. Borrow our poster here.
It Helps with Prevention
Accurate metrics are the most important element of any anti-bullying or anti-violence program. A comprehensive understanding of the statistics is the first step in developing effective safety improvement programs in schools.
Analyzing documented incidents can expose trends and red flags early on, so school officials can intervene before a minor problem grows into something irreparable.
For example, if you know that a certain location on school grounds is a safety problem, you can increase adult supervision in these areas until a more concrete plan can be put into place.
The same goes for troubled individuals. The majority of extremely violent events at school don’t occur out of the blue. According to National School Safety and Security Services, extreme violence stems from a “culmination of a series of deteriorating events experienced by the offender. The resulting violence often reflects an ‘end of the road’ action by the offender”.
With comprehensive incident data and reporting, a school would be aware of an escalation in incidents involving a troubled individual and have the opportunity to interfere.
It Helps Determine Progress
School districts can only monitor progress if they know where they began and where they are now. Without the metrics, there is no objective way to know whether your efforts are working or not and whether you’re doing better or worse. There’s also no way to compare your school’s numbers with other schools in the county.
Tracking safety incidents is necessary for us to measure, analyze and make improvements on real, concrete information instead of assumptions and guesses.
It Helps with Accountability
Tracking safety incidents at school make it easier to hold people accountable for their roles. Victims will receive better protection and support when the incident is formally tracked and acknowledged. Perpetrators will have a harder time avoiding disciplinary action.
As pointed out by the National School Safety and Security Services, school officials are “doing a disservice to children if we teach them that they can commit crimes at school and there will be no…consequences”. K-12 schools prepare students for the real world where they will be held accountable.