3 key factors in shoring up school safety as students return

By: | April 6, 2021

Districts must be proactive in maintaining effective school safety and crisis response plans that account for students with disabilities in post-pandemic schooling.

“As students are returning to in-person instruction, I think there are a few key factors for school districts to consider regarding issues of safety and threat assessments,” said Brandon K. Wright, an attorney with Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller Ltd. Among them, he suggested districts should review training, social-emotional learning, and threat assessment practices.

Safety drills and training

  • Consider how and when to conduct safety demonstrations and drills, particularly for students with disabilities who might need more practice or special considerations.

Wright said many students may have missed out on drills or exercises related to safety concerns such as fire drills, weather drills, and active shooter drills.

He said districts may not have conducted them as normally as they would have in other years due to remote learning.

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“Do not overlook any updated training school personnel may need to be prepared for safety demonstrations and drills, especially those who might be new to the building,” he said.

ESSA provides Title I funding for districts to carry out in-service training for school personnel in addressing issues related to school conditions for student learning such as safety.

Social and emotional needs

  • Be prepared to address social and emotional learning needs.

Wright said many students have experienced trauma or have lacked social interaction over the last year, and the result may be rusty social skills, attention-seeking, or other behavioral concerns.

Title IV of ESSA provides funding to support district efforts to foster safe environments that promote student safety and violence prevention.

Threat assessment process

  • When conducting threat assessments, do not overlook additional procedural steps that may be important for students with disabilities.

“[Ask,] ‘Have we reached the point of considering it an evaluation?'” said Wright. “Do we need to conduct an MDR if we are looking to short-term or long-term removal? Is this a FAPE issue that should be addressed by the IEP team?”

The IDEA requires the district, the parent, and relevant IEP team members to review all relevant information in a student’s file, including teacher observations and relevant information provided by the parents to determine if the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disabilities; or if the conduct in question was the direct result of the district’s failure to implement the IEP.

“Remember that the key to an effective threat assessment process is not simply to determine what happened, but to determine why it happened and what interventions are appropriate to resolve the issue and assist the student,” said Wright. “Threat assessment processes, and documentation, are important not only when a student may be a threat to others, but also to themselves.”

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for LRP Publications.