Improving safety and security in schools in both physical and online learning environments is critical for students’ success
For students, schools should be a place where learning is accessible, enjoyable, and, most importantly, safe. Physical security plays an important role in student safety. Monitoring behavior and being aware of warning signs that signal potential harm helps protect students from both internal and external threats.
Let’s discuss the importance of student safety, the complexities of physical security, and six strategies you can use to keep students physically safe at all times.
The importance of school safety and security today
A rising mental health crisis and increasing gun violence mark an unmistakable need for more and better K-12 school security measures.
Is school violence on the rise?
According to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), school violence, specifically shootings at K-12 schools, has steadily risen since 1970. In 2021, there were a reported 250 shooting incidents, up from just 46 in 2016.
While there are a number of factors that may be to blame, common examples include the rise of bullying and cyberbullying, hate crimes, and other toxic behaviors.
How does school safety and security impact student learning and development?
When students feel unsafe at school, it can greatly impact their ability to learn and retain information effectively. Unsafe environments may lead to:
- Increased absences.
- Poor performance on learning materials and tests.
- Increased mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression.
Physical safety: What can you do?
School shootings and other forms of violence are a paramount concern for students, parents, educators, and community members. And with threats like gun violence increasing, there have been calls to “harden” school grounds throughout the country by implementing visible, physical security measures. Suggestions include adding metal detectors, employing school-based police, and even arming teachers.
However, research finds that these efforts are ineffective and can actually decrease students’ sense of safety.
Although it’s important to have basic physical school security measures and visitor management procedures in place, districts must be careful not to overdo it. Over-monitoring can disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and students with disabilities. In fact, studies show that increasing school policing can lead to increased suspensions, expulsions, and interactions that further disrupt student learning.
These strategies ultimately create a more tense and anxiety-ridden learning environment. Instead, districts should focus on alternative solutions that prioritize both emotional and physical safety simultaneously.
6 effective strategies for protecting student safety
With student safety top of mind, here are six strategies that K-12 schools can use to facilitate a safe and secure learning environment for everyone while on school grounds.
1. Know the warning signs
Oftentimes, there are a handful of signs that a student or students could display that are indicative of potentially violent behavior in the future. Some of these warning signals are more obvious than others, but all are equally important.
Teaching both staff and students to recognize these behaviors could help stop a potential threat before it ever has a chance to cause harm.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, warning signs include:
- Social withdrawal
- Excessive feelings of isolation
- Being a victim of violence, such as bullying or parental abuse
- Feelings of persecution
- Uncontrolled anger
- Patterns of chronic intimidation
- Discipline problems
- Aggressive behavior
- Intolerance for differences
- Drug and alcohol use and abuse
- Affiliation with gangs
- Inappropriate access to and possession of firearms
The Department of Justice goes one step further to acknowledge more immediate warning signs that may signal a high risk for dangerously violent behavior:
- Serious physical fighting
- Destruction of property
- Severe rage for apparently minor reasons
- Detailed threats of lethal violence
- Possession or use of firearms and other weapons
2. Create reporting systems inside and outside the school
While citizen, student, and school safety is the responsibility of governmental authorities and schools at large, they can be augmented with support from the larger school community.
Encourage students, staff, parents, and community members to step up and report potential threats they have noticed. Ideally, a platform where clear and open communication channels are available for people to anonymously share information with school administrators and local law enforcement can promote action.
3. Foster a positive school climate
On June 25, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) into law, shortly after the tragic school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Beyond gun safety measures, the BSCA addresses some of the root causes of school violence, particularly the need to improve school climate through mental health services, out-of-school programs, and community-based resources.
The BSCA allocates over $1.2 billion in funding for programs that help enrich school climates and actually prohibits using the money for “hardening” tactics, like arming teachers or other school staff.
4. Invest in Social Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning (SEL) can help students strengthen their emotional intelligence and become more thoughtful, empathetic people. It teaches students how to resolve issues peacefully, understand different perspectives, and think rationally about social relationships. This can also go a long way toward preventing social isolation.
A lack of social relationships and severe feelings of isolation can lead to low-self esteem, poor self-worth, and feelings of resentment.
5. Filter harmful content out of the school district
Inappropriate and violent content has no place in K-12 schools but is easily accessible on the internet without the right filters.
Using a content filter can help keep students from accessing potentially harmful websites that may negatively impact their well-being and development or inspire violent behavior. For example, filtering tools can block access to videos or websites that contain graphic depictions of sexuality or violence. More importantly, it can help teachers and other school staff discern any suspicious activity and identify those who may be at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.
Content filters will make you aware of what students are searching for, who is searching for particular content, and give you the ability to block access to those websites.
6. Implement a cloud monitoring tool
Cloud monitoring is not only a great cybersecurity resource but also a helpful way to protect student safety. With a data loss prevention solution, you can automate threat detection with AI-powered alerts. This allows you to focus on other critical tasks while your platform keeps tabs on cloud behavior.
Sometimes, students use school-provided cloud applications, such as Google Docs, Chat, and/or Gmail, to discuss their feelings and personal lives. Some even share suicidal thoughts or self-expressions that could indicate self-harm or other violent intentions. A cloud monitoring tool can identify these instances, the user or users involved, and help administrators intervene before it’s too late.
Promote student safety with ManagedMethods
Student safety is paramount. ManagedMethods can be part of your district’s broader effort to help students in need by making it easier for administrators to detect and mitigate potential issues before they become larger issues.
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