Safe Schools Week: 9 key school safety strategies for leaders to keep in mind

Administrators, teachers and students must be on the lookout for signs of distress as schools attempt to return to normal.
By: | October 19, 2021
(Image courtesy of Sandy Hook Promise)(Image courtesy of Sandy Hook Promise)

Student safety advocates say rising gun violence and school shootings in the wake of the pandemic are giving new urgency to Safe Schools Week, an annual national call-to-action that began on Monday.

That’s why Sandy Hook Promise, the safety advocacy group that formed after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, is urging administrators, teachers and students in schools to be on the lookout for signs of distress among children and teens as they reacclimate school after COVID’s disruptions.

Even as administrators are contending with COVID protocols, they should also remain aware many students who are returning are still feeling the effects and traumas of COVID and remote learning, says Nicole Hockley, Sandy Hook Promise’s co-founder and managing director.

“We have to ensure we’re focused on meeting their mental health and well-being needs and ensuring that they feel they have adults and people they can go to to express how they’re feeling and get help,” Hockley says. “There’s a lot of anxiety, depression and loneliness, and these are all things that, if left unchecked, can turn into different forms of violence and self-harm.”

According to a U.S. Secret Service analysis of every major school shooting, students observed warning signs before an act of violence took place, Sandy Hook Promise says. That’s why the organization prioritizes encouraging students to tell a trusted adult to intervene when they recognize concerning behaviors.

Sandy Hook Promise’s free “Know the Signs” program offers a free curriculum that trains administrators, teachers, staff and students to recognize the warning signs of someone who is in crisis.

“If we take proactive steps, we can save countless lives,” added Mark Barden, a co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise whose son Daniel was killed in Sandy Hook. “School shootings are preventable when you know the signs and say something to a trusted adult—we need to empower our kids with the support and resources they need to take action in their schools and communities.”

Safe schools activities

A range of activities are planned by Sandy Hook Promise’s 3,800-plus Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) Promise clubs. To commemorate SAVE Day on Oct. 20, members of the clubs will wear orange in memory of Alex Orange, a North Carolina high school student who was shot to death by armed students from a rival school during a “stop the violence” party, kickstarting the SAVE movement.

SAVE Promise clubs will also organize flash mobs, peace rallies and other actions to raise youth awareness about violence prevention. The clubs will also be advocating for school safety with the #SAVEPromiseClub hashtag and through other social media channels. Sandy Hook Promise has shared a toolkit for the campaign that includes graphics and frames that club members can personalize.

Safe Schools Week, which was launched by the National School Safety Center to motivate policymakers, students, parents and community residents to work together to keep campuses free of crime and violence. The organization shares the following primary strategies to bring communities together to make schools safer:

  1. Stressing the concept that school safety requires community response, school administrators should facilitate and coordinate community efforts to prevent crime and violence.
  2. Administrators should develop a district-wide safe schools plan that includes individual plans for each of their schools. This includes establishing “mutual aid” agreements with local emergency responders.
  3. Create a school safety clearinghouse for literature and data on school safety issues such as substance abuse, discipline, attendance and dropouts, vandalism, security, weapons, youth suicide and child abuse.
  4. Establish a district-wide incident reporting system with a standard form that can be used to provide complete and consistent information on accidents, discipline problems, vandalism and security problems, and suspected child abuse.
  5. Develop a public school safety brochure that explains the key issues and the roles individuals and groups in the community can play to ensure schools are safe havens for learning.
  6. Update a public “school safety fact sheet” that provides current district statistics on incidents of crime and violence, disciplinary actions and suspensions, attendance and dropouts, and vandalism and repair costs.
  7. Create a school safety advisory group that includes representatives from public health and safety, law enforcement, the legal system, parents, nonprofit organizations and the media.
  8. Maintain a community resource file of people known for their abilities to shape public opinion and accomplish goals and solicit their support for the safe schools planning process.
  9. Create a comprehensive identity program for your district because an institution’s image is, in many ways, a direct reflection of its administration, school employees and students. Award promotional items (shirts, hats, lapel pins, coffee mugs and bumper stickers) using this symbol to teachers and staff, parent volunteers and students, promoting a positive campus climate. A well-developed slogan can also have a positive impact.

The National School Safety Center‘s website all includes more detailed strategies for working with school board members, district employees, families and students, the business community, the media, law enforcement and local government officials on school safety.