Why school safety is important goes beyond securing buildings. Here, we’ll look at different dimensions of school safety and what they mean for students.
There’s no doubt that safety is top of mind for school administrators. But, unfortunately, maintaining a safe environment is more challenging now than ever before.
In this blog, we’ll examine the basics of school safety, as well as the potential risks and strategies your district can use to protect students from physical and digital harm.
What is school safety?
School safety is synonymous with security. It includes all activities designed to keep students safe from anything that could potentially compromise their well-being.
More specifically, according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), school safety “encompasses a range of measures, systems, and strategies schools should implement to be prepared for the diverse and oftentimes evolving threats and risks they may face.” In addition to maintaining the physical security of their school grounds, CISA argues that K-12 districts should also stay vigilant against the threat of malicious cybercriminals seeking to exploit systems or obtain valuable information.
So, generally speaking, a safe learning environment includes three key components:
- Physical safety: Security measures that ensure your school district is protected from targeted violence and that students are safe from physical hazards, whether they be natural or man-made.
- Emotional safety: Precautions that uplift psychosocial well-being, ensuring the child is in a safe environment that enables them to develop a healthy sense of self.
- Cyber safety: In the digital age, cybersecurity is paramount to personal safety. School leaders must enact policies and procedures for locking down student data and mitigating threats that could jeopardize their mental and physical security.
As time rolls on, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate these three. The truth is that online and offline safety overlap so much that one almost always impacts the other. For instance, students may be using school-provided resources, such as cloud applications, to express themselves online.
Google Docs files, for example, are often used as diaries where students chronicle their personal struggles. In some cases, students use cloud apps as cyberbullying mechanisms. Students and staff members may also interact with malicious websites that could expose sensitive information to the public.
Why school safety is important
K-12 school districts have a responsibility to do all they can to protect students from harm. Although their primary goal is academic learning, school administrators also play an important role in shaping mental, physical, and social growth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 95% of children and adolescents in the U.S. spend much of their daily lives on school grounds. This provides an opportunity to “foster the knowledge and skills to shape behaviors and experiences,” but also to ensure that learning is done in a supportive and safe environment.
A safe school climate can do wonders for student success. In fact, personal safety is linked to improved academic achievement, whereas poor test scores are associated with higher levels of crime, substance abuse, and other school safety issues. In districts with a greater degree of overall hostility — as measured by reports of feeling unsafe — child reading ability tends to suffer.
What are the most common school safety risks?
School leaders and staff members are concerned about safety, and for good reason. There’s a growing list of potential threats, all of which can have a long-lasting impact on physical and emotional safety.
- Inappropriate content: Graphic depictions of sex and violence aren’t just a compliance violation, they’re also damaging to child development. Yet, many students are accessing inappropriate content on school-provided resources, if not distributing it themselves. It’s not uncommon for minors to “sext” one another, which means child pornography could be floating around your school district. Even worse, it can be emotionally damaging to the students involved if their peers are spreading these images to their friends.
- Bullying: Whether it be traditional harassment, cyberbullying, or discrimination, this type of toxicity can have a broad impact on all parties involved. Bullying victims are often more susceptible to anxiety and depression, poor academic achievement, and even becoming a bully themselves.
- Violence: From verbal threats and fighting to sexual assault and school shootings, violent behaviors come in many shapes and sizes. It goes without saying that all pose a direct risk to personal safety — both emotionally and physically.
- Substance abuse: The sale and use of illegal drugs in and around the school community can have many negative consequences. Aside from lower academic and athletic performance, a student who takes part in this activity may suffer from diminished social development. Moreover, depression, apathy, withdrawal, and other psychosocial dysfunctions are linked to substance abuse among adolescents.
- Self-harm and suicide: Though not the same, self-harm and suicide are closely related. A student who self-harms may not intend to end their life, whereas a suicidal child does. Generally, self-harming students are more likely to experience suicidal ideation.
What’s most troubling is that many of these risk factors appear to be getting worse. According to a CDC report, certain toxic behaviors, such as risky sexual activity, substance abuse, and bullying, have decreased. However, almost all other indicators of health and well-being included in the report — violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts — all worsened significantly.
“Several experiences of violence are increasing, especially for certain groups of youth,” the CDC says. “These data show increases in the proportion of youth who did not go to school because of safety concerns, increases among female students experiencing sexual violence by anyone and being forced to have sex, and increases among male students experiencing electronic bullying.”
How to promote school safety
Fortunately, there’s plenty your school district can do to erase toxicity and embrace a safe learning environment for all. Let’s take a look at some of the most impactful strategies at your disposal:
- Increase school connectedness: In a nutshell, connectedness is when students feel close to others at school. It has a long-lasting, protective effect for adolescents well into adulthood, whereas a lack of connectedness does the opposite. In fact, 20% of California students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs who had low connectedness felt very unsafe at school, according to the latest available data. By contrast, fewer than 3% of students who were very connected to their schools felt unsafe.
- Improve access to community resources: It’s often difficult for at-risk students to access help, let alone ask for it in the first place. Increasing the availability of community-based mental health resources is an important gateway to long-term health and well-being. The CDC’s report recommends schools directly provide such services or establish referral systems for connecting youth to sources of care.
- Leverage a reporting system: The U.S. government lists reporting systems as one of the foundational elements of school safety. They allow schools to learn information about suspicious activity and concerning behaviors from community members. Districts should implement a range of reporting mechanisms such as anonymous online reporting or speaking directly with a school resource officer.
- Incorporate Social Emotional Learning (SEL): Providing students with SEL training can give youth an opportunity to strengthen their social skills. Whether they focus on conflict resolution, empathy, or nonverbal communication, SEL workshops can go a long way toward fostering connection and creating a more positive school climate.
- Use technology to your advantage: There is a wide range of tools that can help you spot safety risks before they escalate into something worse. A cloud monitoring system, for example, allows you to keep watch over cloud applications (such as Google Docs, Chat, and Gmail), spot concerning behavior, and intervene quickly. Monitoring tools can be tailored to identify particular keywords, phrases, and actions that could indicate an at-risk student or potential threat to student safety.
Administrators can also implement a cloud-based content filter. This solution enables you to block access to inappropriate content and malicious websites, which helps safeguard students from harmful materials. Plus, it’s a great first line of defense against the growing swarm of cyber threats eyeing your sensitive data.
Protect your students with ManagedMethods
Whether it be through our Cloud Monitor tool or our CIPA-compliant Content Filter, ManagedMethods is here to help your school district maximize safety at every opportunity. Our solutions are made specifically for K-12 environments, which means they’re jam-packed with all the capabilities you need to protect your district from threats of all shapes and sizes.
Looking for more information? Check out our back-to-school technology guide to learn more about keeping students safe in the upcoming school year.