A new school year brings anxieties for everyone — students, parents and teachers — but concerns about safety shouldn’t be a part of those new semester jitters.
For the past three years, safety concerns about COVID-19 have been at the forefront in schools. In 2022, taking a holistic approach to safety is paramount, says the safety and security chief at one of the biggest districts in the country.
“Safety and security encompasses more than just conventional physical safety,” says Chicago Public Schools Safety and Security Chief Jadine Cho. “We look at it as physical, emotional safety and relational trust.”
“We’re more than security guards and locked doors — it’s about making sure kids have a relationship with a trusted adult,” Cho adds.
What safety hazards the new school year brings
“Unlike this year versus last year, there’s less concern from caregivers surrounding COVID-19 and more concern about emotional safety,” Cho says. “This is the first year back fully in person and children had to be reacclimated in what it feels like to be back in a classroom.”
Mo Candady, the executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers who has trained school safety officers in Michigan, says making sure a school has a plan for active assailants is also important.
“One of those things I’d want to know is does the school conduct drills around active assailant issues and to what level the child is involved in the drills,” says Candady, a retired law enforcement officer and former school resource officer. “With children, we don’t want to be engaging them in highly sensorial type drills — they should just go through the basics.”
“Just like how you wouldn’t start a fire to do a fire drill, you don’t want to have children engaging with things like the sounds of gunfire, for example,” he adds.
He says parents should talk to their schools about how the perimeter of the school is secured. Asking questions about how schools handle visitor security and locking perimeter doors are important questions.
How to talk to kids about safety issues
Another safety issue for kids in schools is bullying, and both Cho and Candady say being aware of what’s happening with your kids online is key to taking preventative measures against it.
Canady says parents need to keep an eye on their child’s social media accounts for “any chatter at all about school safety, about threats against the school and threats in general and anything relative to bullying.”
Keeping access to all social media account passwords is one way to do that, says Canady, and another is to keep lines of communication open with children.
“Ask them questions like ‘Do you feel safe at school?’ or ‘Tell me about the safety things you do at school’ or ‘What makes you feel safe at school?’” he says.
What caregivers can do to keep kids safe
Making sure parents are forming relationships with school leaders makes addressing safety concerns easier.
“My main request to parents is to build relationships with the school’s principals and teachers–we want to have a partnership with parents,” Cho says. “We see it as a team effort and we appreciate that opp to work together to achieve the best outcomes for your child.”
“One of the things we say is safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Cho says. “Have a conversation with your child and have a trusted adult at the school—if you see something suspicious, tell that trusted adult, and parents, know what your kids are doing on social media.”
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, says there are plenty of other things parents can do. That includes asking your kids what they think can be done to improve school safety and whether they have at least one adult they can go to in order to report safety concerns.
In addition to asking questions of school officials, such as about access to the school, policies and procedures in place for security and emergency preparedness and whether the school has a school safety team, parents should ask themselves if they are honestly following safety procedures themselves to make the schools safer, he says.
He has created a list of other practical steps, including keeping them away from weapons.