Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Safe Are Public Schools?

Since my daughter began Kindergarten in the fall, I have been very concerned with school safety. As a teacher, we were taught how to handle crisis situations, bullying, and even first aid. But as a parent in a new school district, how can I be sure that my child is safe? My concerns began when I picked my daughter up for the first time, ID in hand, and no one asked who I was. I walked into the office, signed my name (which no one looked at) and they let me walk right into the school. The ladies in the office had never seen me before, but they trusted that I was safe. I figured I looked pretty harmless in my jeans and t-shirt. Not to mention, I had a little three year old in tow. But why does my appearance automatically deem me safe? The next few times I came in, they still didn’t ask who I was. They even stopped looking up from their work. So I decided to start asking some safety questions.

My questions definitely caught them off guard, but I don’t believe it should have. My first question was simple enough; does your school have a crisis situation plan? A simple yes or no would have seemed to be the logical answer. But what I got was a blank stare, followed by a “what do you mean, crisis plan?”. When I was a teacher, we all had to go to a crisis plan seminar and our students even practiced putting the plan into action, like you would a fire drill. If any parent was to ask us our plan, we would know the answer automatically. However, the secretary had to ask the Vice Principal. The Vice Principal’s response was, “Yes, we have lots of plans for crisis situations.” My response, “Well, what is your open shooter plan?” Her response, “If you leave your email, I can look it up for you.” Look it up for me?!?!?!? If the staff of my daughter’s elementary school encounters an open shooter, they will have to ask him/her to stop firing while they look up their plan. How do they not see the problem here? My husband tries to calm me down by reminding me that they are only in elementary school. What real harm could a grade school child do? First off, a grade school child could do as much harm as any grown adult with a gun. Second, this past week a third grader put a fork to someone’s throat on the school bus. And third, an angry parent or other adult could enter the building at anytime.

To further my “investigation” on school safety, I sent my husband to have lunch with my daughter. My husband has never been in her school, and the secretaries and teachers have never met him. I told him to go sign in at the office without speaking to the secretaries or offering an ID. I was hoping that when a strange man was entering the school someone would speak up and ask for some identification. But unfortunately, they didn’t. He walked right in and no one gave him a second glance.

If you feel unsure of your child’s safety in his/her school, I found a great list from FamilyEducation.com that you can take to your next PTO meeting or to your own private meeting with the school’s principal.

The List

1. Is student safety a priority for your school and your community?

2. Do parents have access to reports that include information about the number of violent or other unsafe incidents at the school?

3. Does your school have procedures for responding quickly to unsafe situations?

4. Is your school addressing ways to prevent as well as respond to crises?

5. Are the school board, school principal, school superintendent, teachers, school staff, parents, students, and community professionals all involved in these efforts?

6. Has someone been designated to coordinate activities to maintain a safe and healthy environment?

7. Are counselors and psychologists available to work with students who are troubled or disruptive?

8. Do students in all grades participate in classes to help them develop conflict resolution and other life skills?

9. Do school health service providers help or refer students who come to them with concerns about safety?

10. Does the school emphasize promoting self-esteem and respect for others in all aspects of the school program?

11. Are parents and students involved in activities that promote school safety?

12. Are teachers encouraged to set examples of positive physical, social, and emotional health?

13. Does the school have fair, firm, consistent discipline policies?

14. Are school facilities attractive and hazard-free?

15. Is safety addressed in all aspects of the school program-the cafeteria, physical education, classrooms, playgrounds, after-school programs, etc.?

16. Do school staff, parents, and community members working on school safety collaborate?

Do you feel safe sending your child to public school? Grab a latte, put up your feet, and join the discussion!


Debbie said...

I feel safe now. However, when we first moved to this school district, I was very concerned as there is a child predator pretty much behind the school. In fact, I thought they where not allowed to live in so many feet of schools. When we go into the school, because it is a small community, everyone pretty much knows everyone...we have to sign in at the computer and get a tag to go in. Then there are locked doors that only the staff can buzz. I am OK now, but still always uneasy about that predator. Great topic!

Krystyn said...

That is a little scary that they didn't even ID your hubby. Did they escort him to the lunch room at least to verify your daughter knew him?

Kel said...

No. They didn't even ask him who he was. He just sign in on a clipboard and walked into the school.

Messy Mommy said...

We live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, so this has never been a concern for me, but I totally get where you're coming from!

thegreengirl said...

I couldn't agree more!!!!! I've thought the same things going in and no one asks, of course by now they know me dragging in all those kids, but at the beginning??? I'm definately on edge after last week too. M's not riding the morning bus anymore because of how poorly the driver handled the situation...the hour delay in the bus's arrival at the stop was apparently because she had no idea how the handle the situation. And the Superintendent had no clue unti the parents called complaining about the whole fiasco!
And maybe they didn't tell eveyone but they did inform us that adult scissors that the girl brought from home were involved. Which resulted in a 2 day suspension from the bus which is the same punishment for poking a hole in the back of a busseat with a pencil.

Gucci Mama said...

My kids aren't school age yet, but my son will start preschool soon and I've picked a private school that does pre-K through grade 12 on the campus so both kids will go there as long we live here. We chose private school for MANY reasons, but one of them was definitely a safety thing. They seem to have a better handle on it than the public schools around here.

Ken Trump said...

Great parent post on school safety! As a father and school safety consultant, I encourage more parents to voice their concerns and observe more closely.

I have some additional parent resources & questions to ask at http://bit.ly/a7g4sI and http://bit.ly/9DQDZw

Nice post!

Ken Trump
National School Safety and Security Services

Holly said...

Our school has spent some time with crisis and disaster preparedness, but the issues of coming on and off campus are still there...just sign in...that's it pure and simple.

I currently have many issues with the school we go to...I went to public school and have always been a proponent. I have felt relatively safe, but probably stupidly so when I think abotu it.

I have other fish to fry with school right now...recently they watched Titanic (not all parts, but still James Cameron's Titanic) in class...3rd grade. I got a note on Friday afternoon...the watched it on Wed, thurs, and Friday.

Rachel Cotterill said...

That's really scary! I can't believe they just let people walk in and out. That would worry me. (But then, when I was at school, we would walk out and no-one stopped us..... which is probably worse but didn't seem like anything to worry about, at the time!)

Wendy said...

School safety, hmmm. Do you remember what your own school experience was like? I'm not talking only about physical safety. Did your parents know what happened to you, what you were subjected to--the HALF of what went on? Have your children (in grade school) been shown pictures of a sexual nature, or are they hearing about this subject in graphic terms, from both classmates and teachers (in the guise of science or sex ed.)? Have they ever been touched inappropriately? (Would they tell you?) Are there children harassing them so they're scared, or being verbally abusive? Do their teachers make them feel that they are "dummies" for their answers, or yell at them, or are they ignored because they do all their work on time and well. What goes on in the bus while riding to and from school? In the upper grades, is any teacher having a "relationship" (anything from flirting to ___) with one or more of their students? Are you naive enough to think this doesn't happen, or that if it did, people would know about it and something would be done about it?
Each of these things happened in my school experience, or that of one of my (present) friends, when we were in school, and it was never known by the parents or school authorities--and that was in the "good old days". Things are a lot worse now.
School safety... I'm sorry to say, but in my mind, there is no such thing. My children are 24 and 20 now, but these issues are one of the many reasons that I chose to Homeschool. That doesn't mean that, by Homeschooling, you can protect your children 100% of the time, but if you were trying to grow a plant, and you had a little one started, would you put it outside in the wind and rain and elements, before it was big enough to withstand it?
Kel, you obviously love your children very much, and are doing everything you have thought of to see that their environment is safe. I applaud you. And I encourage you to keep on!
(I hate to add that the most recent thing I've heard of going on in the schools is sexting--do your children or their friends have cell phones? Do you know what they're sending or being sent? I don't know how young this is starting.)

Kel said...

Wendy, My children are still young (5 and 3), so they haven't been exposed to too much yet. But I am concerned for the future. I think it is important to establish an open relationship with your kids so that you can feel confident they will come to you about anything. Of course that is easier said than done. I also have heard of the sexting and did a post about dangerous teen fads earlier in the year. Thanks for your response.

Kel said...

Debbie - I had no idea that a child predator could live so close to the school! That is very scary!

Kel said...

thegreengirl - Maybe we should consider carpooling next year!!!!

Kel said...

Ken - Thanks for the extra info! Your first link doesn't work, but the second one is good.

Stacey said...

Makes me stop and think. I noted that when I went into school to sign my 5 year old up for kindergarden I couldn't pass the office. There was a set of doors locked which made me feel good...but maybe they just did that knowing that kindergarden sign ups were that week. Thank you for the very real reminder and I can guarentee you that I will be asking a number of questions!

Heather @ Gerber Days said...

I am a little worried about public schools myself. My little girl is almost 2, but I am already thinking about these things. I'm hoping things change before she is in kindergarten. I can't BELIEVE they didn't have a crisis plan, and that they didn't ID your hubby! Geez Louis! Crazy.

I found your blog on the Winey Mommy.
Super interesting topics, so I will be back. Following now, grabbed your button too. ;)


Heather @ Gerber Days said...

hmmm, I can't find your button. You must not have one! If you ever do, let me know. ;)

Kat said...

wow that's pretty scary...I would think more than ever now the schools would be more careful with child abductions occurring more frequently!

Ken Trump said...

Sorry the first link didn't work, Kel. Here is the long version:


The Girl Next Door Grows Up said...

It is scary.

I remember when my daughter had her 1st school lockdown drill. They sisn't even tell the parents they were doing this, they just did it and she was 5! It is crazy what is the "norm" these days.

So sad :-(

Allerykidmom said...

I didn't feel safe at all when my dauther first attended preschool. They had a lot of "male workers" working to fix the school up while it was in session. It has seem to twindle down which makes me feel a lot better. They also have lessened up on the buddy system, which I don't appreciate.

I went to a private schooll all my life and we were gated in. I am glad you stopped by my blog. I am a follower now!

Dona Y.