School Safety: Five Guiding Principles for Parents
James L. Casale
The number-one priority of every school must be the safety and security of students and staff. If, as a parent, you are not content with the district’s policies and procedures, you have two choices: remove your child or become an agent of change.
In 1984, I was appointed the new principal of Purchase School, a small K-5 school in Harrison, New York. I was greeted with a bevy of complaints from teachers, staff, and parents about a steady stream of strangers roaming the hallways looking for the main office and seeking directions to nearby locales. The school was located at the busy intersection of Purchase Street and Anderson Hill Road in a residential area devoid of commerce. The two large parking lots were conveniently inviting to those who were lost.
The lower-level parking lot on Purchase Street had two points of entry. Both remained open all day. The other parking lot faced Anderson Hill Road. It had one point of entry, which led to the main office. It was as clear as the morning bell that greeted students each day that this AAA service had to stop immediately.
Phase one of the plan was easy. All entry points would be locked when the late bell rang. Signs directed latecomers, strangers, and visitors alike to report to a single entry that led to the main office.
Phase two of the plan required a buzzer system at the main entrance. All visitors were required to state their name and their business before being “buzzed” into the building. This phase took a little longer. It needed the approval of the school board and the superintendent. This was and still is a small school district, though. Innovations could get done quickly, especially when buttressed by teacher and parent support.
These protocols put an immediate stop to intruders wandering the halls looking for help, but more importantly, they made everyone connected to Purchase School feel safer.
Could any of this have prevented a Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Santa Fe incident? After all, it was 1984 and BCCSM (Before Computers, Cell Phones, and Social Media). We thought we were being innovative, but in today’s world, our innovations would fall far short. There is so much more to be done, and parents can lead the way.
The tentacles that drive gun violence have their roots in a variety of societal maladies that include but are not limited to dysfunctional families, divorce, mental illness, violent video games, a movie industry that glorifies violence, pandemic bullying, and the misuse of electronic devices.
Inept school officials and a dearth of comprehensive A-to-Z school policies that address total school safety and security are part of the disaster in waiting.
And let’s not forget the so-called uninformed, lazy, and apathetic “intact two-parent families” that coddle their children, enable inappropriate behavior, and devote themselves to their children’s self-esteem instead of embracing their responsibilities as their children’s first teachers and role models.
Principle #1—Assess Your Parenting Skills
School reform starts at home. Do you have a family mission statement that guides each family member to become a lifelong learner and a person of character and virtue committed to kindness, compassion, respect, and responsibility? No? Create it now and hang it on the wall.
Do you have a plan to raise your children within the guidelines of your expectations as outlined in your family mission statement? Are you committed to building trust, communication, and connectedness? Are your decisions consistent and collaborative? Do you teach by example? Do you even have the courage needed to be an effective parent?
Principle #2—Become Informed
It is your sacred responsibility to protect your child. Obtain copies of the school and school district’s safety and security policies and procedures. These are not limited to protecting children from the deranged psychopaths, sociopaths, and predators who are intent on murder, destruction, and chaos.
Policies must be comprehensive, protecting kids on the playground, in the cafeteria, on school buses, and in the hallways. They must also include bullying and discipline protocols. Additionally, the cleanliness of the building, health protocols, and a campus that is devoid of dangerous hazards such as unsafe playground equipment, fencing, or debris are also part of the safety equation. Fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures are standard policies usually observed by all schools.
Those interested do not have to reinvent the wheel. Information and guidelines are readily available from national, state, and local organizations.
Principle #3—Get Involved
Don’t become proactive until you acquire accurate information (see Principle #2). Complacency and apathy are your enemies. There is no such thing as safe enough. There is power in numbers. Connect with like-minded parents. Form a committee and/or insist that there is a safety committee in your school and that parents are well represented.
The committee should meet at least once a month. Require your school’s parent organization to conduct an annual meeting devoted to safety and security policies. Create communication lines to all parents. If possible, volunteer your time. Adult-student ratios always need a boost. Include input and recommendations from your community’s first responders. They should also be represented on your school and/or district committee.
Principle #4—Hold Elected Officials and School Officials Accountable
South Korea leads all nations in school achievement. When President Obama asked the South Korean president what his biggest complaint regarding the education system was, he replied, “The parents are too demanding.” This is in stark contrast to what I have experienced as a public school educator for more than 40 years. American parents are not demanding enough.
The state is responsible for the education system. The governor, his appointees, and state legislators work for you and must be held accountable. These people are not educators and, more often than not, know little about schools. You must remain connected to them and organize yourselves into a group they will listen to.
The same goes for school officials. Don’t wait for a school tragedy. Demand that they do their job and remind them constantly that their number-one responsibility is to protect your children.
Principle #5—Assess and Reassess
As managing expert Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” When Ed Koch was the mayor of New York City, he was always seeking feedback from his fellow New Yorkers. While walking the streets of the city, he would shout out his now-famous saying, “How am I doing?”
School and district policies and protocols must be scrutinized and regularly evaluated for their effectiveness. Maintain logs and statistics to guide you. There is always room for improvement.
Good things will happen. Kids, staff, visitors, and parents will feel safer and be safer if parents do their “due diligence.” There is no shortage of solid information. While there are no guarantees—unless you buy a toaster—being the best parent you can be, becoming informed and proactive, working and collaborating with like-minded people, and holding state and local officials accountable is a formula that may curtail the next accident or tragedy. It’s worth trying.