Observations: School Safety

In the wake of yet another school shooting today in Ohio…

School safety is a difficult subject.

ComplicatingOstrich things are that many educators, especially administrators, haven’t been trained and are relying on instinct.

Then, there is the stack of mandates. I’ve had more superintendents than I can count tell me they could work 24/7 on the federal and state mandates and not get through all of them.

Safety often gets put to the side, especially as most administrators were never exposed to the necessary training during their credentialing process.

They don’t know what they don’t know and don’t know where to get help.

Many administrators are also afraid of what the parents will say so (why are you doing this drill?  Is our school that unsafe?).  They implement what I call the Ostrich Approach and rely on public safety.

There are two fallacies in the assumption that public safety knows what to do:  First, teachers and administrators are the first responders in a school incident; they need training.  Second, law enforcement knows how to deal with the bad guys. That’s their job. They’re not focused on handling hundreds or thousands of students during an incident. That’s the school’s job.

Add to this, the administrator and teacher changes; people retire, move on to other districts so unless the drills and procedures are institutionalized, the knowledge quickly disappears and is forgotten.

In working with law enforcement, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Their training is in a “high anxiety, fear-based” mode, primarily because that’s usually the scenario when they arrive at an incident. Even that training, at least in California, is changing with the awareness that a de-escalating, calm approach, especially when dealing with people with mental illness, can get far better results.

Teachers, on the other hand, use a “scaffolding” mode — that is, start with the basics and grow the subject, making certain that students are supported so that everyone can succeed.

Law enforcement uses a “one size fits all” approach; teachers have 30 or more student variables, including students with autism, physical disabilities, processing challenges, etc. They need to know their options.

With law enforcement now conducting most of the lockdown trainings, I have concerns that the standard “run, hide, fight” approach, while certainly the correct response, has been better framed for adults in the business world than for one adult with 20 – 40 children.

My experience is that officers also need a bit of training in order to work effectively with school kids.  You can’t just bark orders. There are those officers who intuitively know; others who need, hmm, some scaffolding in a more appropriate approach.

Parents often worry about drills and the impact on youngsters, but it’s really no different than teaching children not to get in a car with a stranger, not to run out in the street, etc. It’s teaching (and drilling) students to evacuate in a fire, drop/cover/hold in an earthquake, for example, and run or barricade in a lockdown.

The fairly recent research out of Harvard shows that humans are hard-wired to freeze in an emergency UNLESS our brains have been re-wired through drills to react differently.  In 9/11, people froze and died; the exception was the Morgan Stanley office that had been repeatedly drilled under their Security Chief Rick Rescorla, retired US Army.  Rescorla died after returning to the towers to rescue others, but the 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees lived after immediately evacuating.

Fires used to kill hundreds of children in schools; not one child has died since school fire drills have been mandated and building codes updated.

Drills are critical.

Long time past, after the citywide lockdown training had been concluded and the drills were rolling out in over 300 schools, the mayor had a town hall meeting.  I was asked to be there, just in case there was a question regarding the drills.

One young mother stood up, nervous but forceful. She looked the mayor straight in the eye, took a deep breath and told her story.

My first grade daughter came home last month with a note that her school was having a Code Red drill the next day. It was too late to even call and complain. I was angry.  My daughter has been terrified since 9/11 and now, a drill?  I made arrangements to leave work early so I’d be home when my daughter arrived. I was so worried.

My daughter skipped into the house, excitedly announcing that it had been the best day ever in school. They had learned and practiced what to do if a bad man with a gun ever came into the school. They put tables against the door, built a fort, were very quiet and then the officer gave them each a sticker for walking out to the playground without talking after the drill.

Now, her daughter announced, I’m not afraid.  I know what to do.

The parent concluded, I just wanted to thank you.

The lesson, beyond the obvious, is that parents and parent groups are the ones that often make it both safe and essential for schools to train and drill for emergencies.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Observations: School Safety

  1. Wow. Well written and described. Not easy. Every situation is difficult but students usually trust their teachers.
    Teachers and others (as well as the kids) need training.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ab-so-lute-ly good writing. During one of our drills, I was informed by the officer who checked the strength of our barricades, that he could see no one in whole or in part hiding in silence in the room–except my left knee. Therefore I was virtually wounded and the students had to make sure I was eventually evacuated and my “wound” cared for. The incident was actually reassuring.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I worked my first 11 years in the Sequoia Union High School District, we did fire drills every month. Every month. I worked in other districts over the years, and there were years when not a single drill took place.

    Like

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