Schools need to work with their communities to keep their students safe. This requires mental health services, guidance counselors and emergency response plans.
In addition to school resource officers, many City schools have School Safety Agents — police-trained individuals who can give safety lectures and mentor students. These professionals should receive extensive training on de-escalating hostility and conflict resolution.
Invest in Traffic Calming Measures
Despite the recent national focus on school safety, decisions about local security initiatives remain in the hands of state and local leaders. Fortunately, federal programs currently allow schools to use some funding to support resources like school resource officers, drug and violence prevention, and crisis training for teachers and staff. New proposals would expand eligible uses of education funding for school safety, but the vast majority of money still needs to come from local sources.
School zone traffic calming is essential to safe routes for students, and can include a range of engineering, enforcement and education approaches. Some of the most effective measures are low cost, such as painted markings and driver feedback signs indicating a reduced speed limit in school zones. Other options include traffic circles, diverters that route vehicles around a school to reduce through traffic, and paving sidewalks to give pedestrians a protected path to the school.
To maximize impact, school community members should identify and work with school officials to prioritize school traffic safety improvement projects. Projects should focus on “primary investment routes,” which are streets that have the greatest number of students walking on them to access a school. These streets are selected through a process that includes a computer model and public input via open houses, parent surveys, and review with school leadership.
Many school safety concerns cited by parents relate to the street environment in which children walk. In some neighborhoods, parents worry that there are not enough sidewalks, that the road is too congested, or that crossing conditions are unsafe. In other areas, parents fear the presence of strangers or car crime.
Working with city engineers, communities can use a variety of calming strategies to slow down cars in the school zone and improve pedestrian safety. These can include speed bumps, narrowing of the roadway with raised table or humps, and traffic circles that require drivers to maneuver and take a longer view of the road.
Some cities also deploy a variety of visual warning signals, including flashing rectangular beacons in unsignalized crosswalks, and lighted flashing school buses to warn motorists. For more extensive improvements, communities can invest in capital reconstruction to alter the layout and geometry of a street. This type of project often takes years to complete and can be costly.
Educate Teenagers About Personal Safety
In the wake of high profile acts of violence, children and teenagers are likely to feel confused, frightened or worried about their own safety at school. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. It’s important to reassure them that schools are among the safest places for children and they should never let news events make them feel unsafe.
It is also important to educate teenagers about personal safety, particularly the dangers of drowsy driving. Teens are often busy with extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and spending time with friends and may sacrifice sleep for these obligations. This can lead to dangerous drowsy driving, which has been linked to many fatal and injury crashes.
Teaching teens about the risks of drowsy driving, as well as underage drinking, can help reduce these statistics. Parents should talk to their teens about these issues and help them find ways to prioritize sleep to avoid drowsy driving.
Educating teenagers about other safety concerns, such as stranger danger, is also vital. This can be done through classroom lessons and community events. School safety resources, such as the Say Something program for students and Being a Trusted Adult for adults who work in a school, can help with this education.
Schools can also encourage parents to participate by discussing their school’s safety policies and procedures with them. They can also listen to the parents’ feedback and provide them with the tools they need to help keep their children safe.
Many schools struggle to balance the needs of students and community safety. This is particularly true in urban communities with limited resources. However, there are several ways that community members and local elected officials can collaborate with school leaders to address these concerns.
For example, local leaders can make use of federal programs that allow them to direct some K-12 education funding toward school safety initiatives such as drug and violence prevention programs, crisis training for staff and student support services. They can also partner with law enforcement to support school safety. For example, some schools are hiring law enforcement officers to act as “School Resource Officers.” This provides an additional layer of security and helps to deter crime in the immediate vicinity of the school.
Partner with Law Enforcement
School safety requires a community-wide approach. Students, teachers, parents, and law enforcement must work together to develop a plan that can prevent incidents from occurring as well as keep the community safe in the event of an emergency. To build a community of support, schools should be transparent and open about their school safety policies and procedures. This allows everyone to understand the school’s commitment to safety, as well as their role in preventing and responding to an incident. There must be a comprehensive way to solve school security issues in order to provide a better school environment for students.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that many parents feel disconnected from their school’s safety policies. In fact, a recent survey by Raptor Technologies and Safe and Sound Schools found that 40% of parents don’t believe their school listens to them about how they could improve safety measures. This is a problem, especially since schools need parental support to implement effective strategies that promote a culture of respect and belonging for all youth.
It is crucial that all adults in the school community be aware of their role in maintaining a safe school environment and are trained to recognize warning signs. In addition, it is important that school leaders and staff be able to report threats or suspicious activity to local law enforcement agencies.
Currently, in New York City, there are about 175 School Safety Agents (SSAs) in public schools, who are primarily police officers who have received training at the Police Academy on issues including de-escalation and conflict resolution. They are also responsible for addressing a range of school-based issues such as bullying and drug use. In addition to partnering with NYPD on school safety initiatives, SSAs can help create and sustain a safe school environment by working with other local partners such as counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals.
It is critical for schools to partner with law enforcement in a manner that promotes the community’s safety and supports all students to achieve their highest potential. This is best done by implementing the principles of community policing in schools, which is an effective, non-confrontational, and positive way to interact with youth. It is also essential that school leaders and the community be aware of all the resources available to them, including federal programs that fund activities such as threat assessment, resource officer programs, school-based violence prevention, and crisis intervention training for schools.
Invest in School Bus Safety
The safety of school buses is a critical part of keeping students and staff safe. Every vehicle has to pass stringent tests from expert engineers and regulators before it is allowed to ferry children to and from school.
School communities can work with local bus companies to promote school safety initiatives and improve community relationships. They can also install traffic calming measures near schools, including speed bumps, crosswalks and traffic signals, to slow down vehicles and make it safer for pedestrians.
Schools can also invest in school bus technology, such as GPS tracking and cameras that record events. These systems can be used to identify unsafe behaviors and provide real-time feedback on driver behavior. Schools can also work with law enforcement to identify individuals who are posing a threat and seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) under the State’s Red Flag law.
In New York City, school safety agents and NYPD officers intervene in behavioral incidents at schools about 50 times per day. [lxxxi] These incidents include arrests, summonses, child in crisis events, juvenile reports and mitigated events. [lxxxii] Using data from the first quarter of 2018, we know that law enforcement interventions at schools are declining, but still far too many students and their families have to deal with the aftermath of these encounters.
Investing in community-based solutions that help schools and students address their safety concerns can support greater equity, social justice and resilience. Reimagining school safety as a positive—instead of a negative—can help schools and their communities partner effectively to create the best possible learning environment.
The federal government has several programs that can be used to fund school safety strategies. For example, the Department of Justice has Community Oriented Policing Services grants that can be used to hire police resource officers in schools. Similarly, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program, authorized in Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, can be used to pay for things like mental health support services for students. The Trump administration has also been pushing for funding to upgrade school buildings and clean up indoor air quality in classrooms.