Are Your Kids Safe at School? 5 Things Parents Should Know

Schools present new challenges that require awareness and action.

This year Massachussetts launched a major anti-bullying-in-schools campaign. (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

When today’s parents send their kids off to school, they worry about safety issues that didn’t even exist when they were growing up.

Along with the bullying, fights, and verbal threats of yesteryear, today’s kids navigate a dangerous world of drugs, gangs, weapons, violence, sexual predators, and cyber-threats. These can come from inside the school, or anywhere worldwide via the Internet.

Consider the following statistics: The United States is home to 1 million active gang members and over 700,000 registered sex offenders. 100,000 students regularly carry a gun to school. 160,000 kids miss school every year to avoid bullying. 75 percent of school shooting incidents are linked to harassment and bullying. In 2008-09, 38 violent deaths occurred in schools.

On Sept. 9, TakePart participated in the 2011 Back to School Safety Forum hosted by THE Journal.

Presenters included: Alison Rhodes, national Safety Mom; Janet Read, active parent representing Parental Awareness for Safe Schools (P.A.S.S.); Bill Sebring, principal of Woodstock High School in Georgia; Mark Kissel, Cherokee County School District police chief; and Patrick Fiel, ADT public safety advisor.

Here’s a quick rundown of five things parents should know about safety threats and solutions as their kids head back to school:

1. SCHOOL SAFETY SURVEY: Alison Rhodes conducted a nationwide survey to assess safety issues in American schools. Her findings included the following:

  • The greatest safety concerns for parents were bullying, children carrying guns to schools, and sexual predators.
  • 70 percent of American parents reported that their child experienced bullying on school grounds.
  • 66 percent of bullying cases were reported to schools, but the bullying continued 23 percent of the time.
  • 51 percent of parents felt that schools were only somewhat responsive to bullying issues.
  • Almost 20 percent of parents said that anyone can walk freely into their child’s school. Only 35 percent of schools required visitors to sign in and show a photo ID.
  • 32 percent of parents did not feel secure about the safety of their child’s school.

2. PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT: What can parents do to ensure their child’s safety? According to Rhodes, the most important thing parents can do is stay involved. 

Looking for signs of bullying is critical. These can include changes in behavior and eating patterns, depression, and attempts to avoid school. 

Parents should also monitor their child’s computer activity. “There’s nothing wrong with snooping,” she said. “It is your God-given right as a parent to snoop on your child, and see what’s going on. You need to know what they’re saying and what they’re doing…Meet them where they live: online.”

Rhodes emphasized open communication with the school regarding safety concerns, and making sure the school knows who may or may not pick up your child.   

She also suggested seeking the advice of mental health professionals. “Don’t take any comment about depression or suicide for granted,” she warned. “You never know, and you never want to have any regrets.”

Parents should teach their children to take a stand against bullying. “Teach your children to be active and to not be innocent bystanders,” she concluded. “If they see someone being bullied, they should do something about it.”

Teach your children to be active and to not be innocent bystanders. If they see someone being bullied, they should do something about it.

3. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Janet Read discussed the importance of proactively preparing for emergencies before they happen. 

Her district implemented the P.A.S.S. program, which holds quarterly meetings to keep parents abreast of safety concerns. They also established a Parent Emergency Response Team (P.E.R.T.).

When schools are faced with emergency evacuations, all parents tend to flock to the school to pick up their children. But this natural response creates havoc, blocks access roads, and impedes emergency vehicles. Instead, the district established an evacuation protocol for each school that includes reunification plans. A team of pre-trained P.E.R.T parents whose children attend neighboring schools are called upon to assist with coordination, while all other parents await further instruction.

4. FACULTY TRAINING:  The top priority at every school should be safety, said Principal Bill Sebring: “We don’t believe that teaching and learning can take place at any school without a safe and secure environment.”

His teachers are trained on protocols that address bullying, cyber-bullying, and other safety issues. Principals take FEMA’s National Incident Management System courses, and develop a crisis management plan that includes lockdown procedures. Their bullying prevention team made up of teachers, parents, and students meets weekly. His campus also has a school police officer to help teachers and students address concerns as they arise.

5. TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS: According to Patrick Fiel, ADT protects over 15,000 schools on a daily basis. The company begins with a free risk assessment to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Safety inspection points include the following: Vegetation and foliage around the school should not provide hiding spaces for people or dangerous objects; all doors should be locked (especially in high value rooms like computer labs); security cameras should be mounted in designated areas around the school and in all school buses; areas in and around the school should be well lit; proper signage should direct visitors to the main office; all visitors should be required to sign in and show photo id; all classrooms should have emergency buttons and a phone system that connects directly to the main office.

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