In recent weeks, I visited two Palm Beach County high schools to drop off scholarship applications courtesy of the Sons of Italy Lodge in Tequesta, FL. At one campus, I was able to walk directly into the front office to state my business. At the other campus, I was met by a huge chain link fence and a security person before I was admitted to the office. I think that if I were a troubled student (known fact) who was recently expelled and carrying a backpack and a duffle bag, I would not have made it to the inside of the chain-link at campus number two. How did this murderer receive access to the campus at Douglas High school?
First Things First
The number one priority of any school district and individual school is the safety and security of students and staff. As a former school administrator, I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) when it came to school safety and security. From daily lockdowns and an efficient buzzer system to faulty and dangerous playground equipment and cafeteria spills, I was ever vigilant and my staff and parents knew it. It was contagious. Everybody became more aware of anything in the school or on campus that would in any way be potentially harmful.
What Can Be Done Before First Responders Arrive?
Our first responders don’t arrive until they are notified. Sometimes they arrive during the commission of the heinous act or after the act is committed. God Bless them and their families. The front lines in these cases are manned by school officials, teachers, and parents. Yes, parents must be part of the equation.
Parents send their kids to school with the assumption that they will be secure and safe. Parents put too much trust in school officials including school board members. School safety and security protocols must include input from parents who can and should participate in the establishment of district and school policy.
How Can Parents Get Involved?
First, become informed. Insist on the publication and distribution of a school district manual outlining the district and each school’s policies and protocols that protect your children from harm’s way. This includes everything from playground and bus safety to bullying, cyberbullying, and unwanted intruders.
Second, serve on district and school safety committees that meet each month to gather information and evaluate the effectiveness of these policies. Conduct staff and parent meetings on this topic.
Third, research the policies of other school districts locally and nationally. Utilize the information if it improves your situation. There are enormous amounts of free information available from organizations such as The National Crime Council, U.S. Department of Education, and the Center for Safe Schools to name a few.
Fourth, always include input from your community’s first responders who should be represented on your committee.
There is no issue as important as the safety, security, and health of your child. Do your homework, gather information, get involved and don’t rely solely on the school district or school. Some valuable lessons were learned from Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Find out what they were. While evil cannot always be deterred, we can always be vigilant.
James L. Casale is a former Florida Teacher of the Year and a National School of Excellence principal.
He is the author of two parenting books. He is available as a speaker.