Safety of our children has always been important, but due to recent catastrophic events involving schools, increasing safety has taken on new meaning and has become a higher priority at most levels. Noticeably, many elementary schools are installing security cameras, including our intermediate school, where this was often only done at the middle and high school level. I recently sat in on a conference call led by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS). Included in this call were, John White, ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach; David Esquith, ED’s Director of the Office of Safe & Healthy Students; and National Rural Education Association (NREA) Executive Director John Hill. An important part of emergency management is “communication”. It is especially important to include “first responders” in the planning process as well as staff and some parents. Communication plans must include prior drills and information on how to prevent tragedy as well as how to respond during a tragedy. Knowing what details to share can also be critical during an emergency when you want to inform the public but you do not want to cause panic or provide too much information to the perpetrators (if any) of the tragedy.
Guides should be released by ED in May to help the schools to update their emergency plans. One of my questions revolved around discussions held by some schools about eliminating or reducing parental access to schools. I am relieved that many are stepping up their background checks and fingerprinting but are not denying access. Parental engagement is important to our schools and we don’t want to inhibit participation and visibility that could help our children to be or to feel safer.
Statistics show that youth and young adults are much more likely to become victims than those over 24: 38% are 12-17 years old and 49% are 18-24. President Obama has called for a “collaborative effort to keep our children safe at home, at school, and in the community.” In this spirit, two town halls were held in Baltimore, MD with National PTA President Betsy Landers. One was with the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Deborah Delisle, who has thirty-seven years in education and says, her “heart lies with kids everyday.” Another town hall included Secretary Arne Duncan where over 350 community members attended to share ideas to improving school safety for students. In Our Voice, our National PTA‘s blog, Betsy Landers wrote an article, “Our Commitment to Keeping Schools Safe.” In it she recommends two courses of action:
1) Contact your Senators to express disappointment in their failure to enact common-sense gun violence prevention measures.
Resources are available at the REMS Technical Center to help with REMS planning as well as on counseling students after traumatic events. PTA also has information on planning and safety tip sheets. I believe that one of our greatest resources is “Working Together!”