10 Steps to a Safer K-12 School

10 Steps to a Safer K-12 School

There is more to keeping students safe than metal detectors. Learn 10 new tips for improved school safety.

Each year, 20,000 children experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while playing on a playground. Another 17,000 children under the age of 19 visit emergency rooms annually for school bus injuries.

Factor in the risks of harassment and bullying, violence, cyberattacks and data theft, and school begins to look like an unsafe place.

Keeping staff and students safe is one of the most significant objectives of any school or district. With so many risks at every corner, it's impossible to make your school completely danger-proof. But, follow these 10 steps and you're guaranteed to make your K-12 school safer for staff and students.

Download the free eBook to learn how case management software helps keep schools safe.

1. Make Sure the Physical Space is Safe

Improve the safety of the physical space by regularly checking that the playground structure is in good working order and that gym equipment is safe for use. Define school doors as primary, secondary or tertiary. Lock the secondary and tertiary doors except during high-traffic times.

For elementary schools with younger children, consistently check that the perimeter fences are secure enough to keep youngsters off the road and strangers off school grounds.

2. Make Sure the Network is Safe

Cybersecurity is a relatively new but equally important safety concern. Schools are responsible for making sure that students aren't able to access inappropriate websites or view unsafe content. A school is also responsible for securing the personally identifiable information of its staff members and students.

Improve network safety by implementing data privacy policies, downloading malware scanning programs, encrypting data and using only privacy-compliant third parties.

RELATED: Investigating Online Threats, Cyberbullying and Doxxing

3. Create Clubs to Encourage Positive Relationships

A safe school requires more than surveillance cameras and locked doors. There’s a greater possibility of a security issue arising in a larger school that doesn’t have smaller communities existing within it.

The term “smaller communities” generally refers to clubs, groups and committees that improve the interaction among students. Existing within a smaller community provides students with a sense of belonging and helps them to build strong interpersonal relationships.

4. Improve Safety in All Areas

The news might tell you that the biggest risk to your school is an armed student or intruder, but it’s important that you pay attention to all the other possible threats as well.

Improperly or untrained staff, cyberattacks, allergic reactions, concussions, drug and alcohol abuse, harassment, bullying, child abuse and mental health issues are all equally viable risks that deserve attention and prevention.

5. Create a Threat Assessment Process

Conduct an annual threat assessment to identify the risks to your staff and students. Identify all possible risks, not just school violence. Consider health and safety hazards, building security risks and network security threats.

Download our K-12 Threat Assessment Process Template for help conducting a threat assessment. 

With this information, measure the likelihood of each threat and also the damage it could cause. For example, a building collapse would be unlikely, but the damage catastrophic. Equipped with this information, you can create an effective prevention or harm mitigation plan.

6. Invest in Technology

Using software is often the best and simplest way to improve the building and network security. There are many effective tools that make it easy for you to deter violence, analyze risk, monitor building safety and defend against ransomware.

Take advantage of technologies such as case management software, motion detectors, wireless access control locks, video management systems, anti-malware protection, mass notification systems and more.

7. Use a Reporting Tool

Empower staff, students, parents and the surrounding community to share their concerns by providing an accessible, intuitive reporting hotline or other tool. Adopt a tool that can be used to report all risks including a suspicious pop-up, a broken fence or a troubling student.

Make sure students know how to report. Download this free anti-bullying poster and customize it with your school's hotline info.

To receive as many tips as possible, guarantee anonymity to the reporter and make the process as simple as possible by offering both a call line and a web form.

8. Investigate All Tips

Address every tip, even if it's just a "hunch" or seemingly unimportant. Actively investigating a tip may be the difference between a threat and a tragedy.

In 2018, only a few days after the Parkland tragedy, a school district in Kentucky received an anonymous tip on their threat-reporting system. Apparently, one student spoke frequently about owning a gun and causing harm to himself and others. When local police arrived at the suspect's home they found an AR-15 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.

In this case, investigating the anonymous tip most likely saved this Kentucky school from tragedy.

9. Create Safety Task Forces

Establish teams that are responsible for leading the different steps of school safety. For example, the threat assessment team can be responsible for identifying and measuring school threats. The outdoor safety planning team can identify technology to improve bus and playground safety. The emergency response team can lead support efforts after a safety incident has occurred.

10. Assess and Evaluate Current Initiatives

Require that each task force be responsible for assessing, evaluating and reporting back on their own work.

The outdoor safety planning team should report back on the effectiveness of the tools they've implemented. Are they choosing unnecessary, flashy products such as an X-ray machine, or are the benefits worth the investment? How does your emergency response team stack up against nationwide best practices? Are they failing to provide psychological support for students in need when experts continue to suggest it's mandatory?

When every team is responsible for evaluating and assessing their initiatives, they will continue to improve.