At the beginning of the school year, a Gallup poll reported that four in 10 parents expressed concern about their child’s safety while at school. Now, just weeks after class was called back to session, there has been an influx of violent threats in schools.
Several incidents in the Washington, D.C. region forced lockdowns or cancellations at area schools. Additionally, a recent report revealed that Texas schools received 77,000 threats last year—averaging a threat every minute students were in class.
Many school boards are trying in earnest to address these incidents by hiring school resource officers or installing security measures like metal detectors and video surveillance systems. While these are important steps in addressing physical threats on school campuses, school boards and administrators need to take steps to proactively address misconduct before it escalates and causes harm. School districts can ensure all threats to the safety of students, teachers and administrators are consistently and appropriately addressed by adopting safety policies that include anonymous reporting, resolution systems and consent-based criminal monitoring.
Prioritizing learning and safety
In the educational ecosystem, it is possible for warning signs to go unnoticed. Administrators and teachers have so much on their plates. They are balancing full classrooms and evolving instruction topics, as well as addressing the growing mental health needs of students. Compounding the issue, many schools started the year short-staffed, and educators are still scrambling to catch their students up from pandemic-era learning losses.
When combined, all these added strains and responsibilities create a perfect storm for administrators and their staff to inadvertently miss issues that impact the workforce and have the potential to evolve into something much more serious. School districts that adopt technologies to streamline the reporting and resolution process provide faculty and staff with a platform to submit their concerns quickly. This saves time and alleviates the pressures educators are feeling, allowing them to prioritize student learning and safety.
Encouraging employees to self-report should be an obvious strategy to mitigate risk. However, individuals may hesitate to report inappropriate behavior out of fear of retribution or certain biases. It is imperative to establish open and proactive lines of communication to make this system successful. Employees must feel safe and comfortable participating in anonymous and on-the-record internal reporting.
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In a bias complaint filed against a New Hampshire school district this summer, a teacher alleged she was overlooked for promotions because of her sex and race and in retaliation for raising concerns. She resigned from her position as a special education department leader in July. In Maryland, a principal was accused of sexually harassing a teacher over several years, yet he was promoted. A colleague admitted she was apprehensive to report the incidents out of fear of retaliation from the principal and school district.
Workplace incidents are often underreported because employees are worried about potential consequences and lack confidence that their information will be handled fairly and sensitively. School districts can take proactive measures to establish a standardized resolution supporting school employee policies and streamline reporting procedures. This will ensure concerns about boundary violations are incorporated into HR-led investigative processes and eliminate favoritism.
Focusing on what matters most
Even if a traditional reporting system is in place and anonymity isn’t a concern, many school districts don’t have the resources to adequately monitor submissions due to understaffing or other mounting responsibilities overwhelming educators and administrators. There may also be confusion on where to report concerns, placing doubts on whether reported misconduct is getting to the right person or being filed away until additional resources are available.
To address this issue, school districts should adopt technologies that establish clear reporting channels and notifications to ensure that the right information gets to the right person without delay or ambiguity. With this approach, issues like harassment, bias, racism, substance abuse, and more are identified early on before students in the classroom are impacted.
Any school leader would rank student safety No. 1 on their priority list. To ensure this is achieved, school districts can also implement a compliant and comprehensive continual monitoring system that tracks criminal activity and cross-references sex offender registries—all in real-time. Every employee who works with children would be monitored, including full-time and substitute teachers, custodians, counselors, nurses, administrators, coaches, volunteers and other school personnel.
School boards, administrators, teachers and parents all share a common goal: providing the best for their students. School systems that embrace innovative tools can create a culture of safety and trust within their community, allowing for inappropriate behavior and bias to be course-corrected by school leadership before it causes potential harm.
Resources in K-12 schools are tight and could be allocated in countless places to fulfill educational needs. Still, an anonymous reporting and resolution portal where employees can feel comfortable giving honest feedback must become a priority for school systems. These portals and continuous monitoring technologies allow for a resolution to be achieved more quickly so that educators can focus on what matters most – teaching their students in a safe environment, free from worry.