Skip to content
ascd logo

Join
October 1, 2018
Vol. 60
No. 10

How Schools Should Really Talk About Safety

author avatar
Amy and Amanda Klinger of The Educator's School Safety Network urge educators and school leaders to move beyond gut reactions to tragedies toward a more comprehensive approach for safeguarding students.
LeadershipPolicy
Klinger-edupdate-October2018-image
School safety is arguably one of this year's most pressing matters. In the 2017–18 school year, a number of high-profile tragedies struck school communities across the nation. Mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Tex., left 27 students and educators dead. The lingering effects (and new threats) of devastating hurricanes continue to plague schools in Puerto Rico and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. In recent months, eruptions of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano spewed lava into one Big Island school building and prompted school closures over air quality.
February's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was the spark for a renewed (and often politicized) debate about the most effective school safety measures. Hundreds of thousands of students, parents, and educators, led by student activists, have demanded action to end gun violence through demonstrations across the globe.
In response, groups such as the Council of Chief State School Officers and a federal school safety commission chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have launched separate efforts to determine best practices to prevent incidents (though DeVos's commission has been criticized for staying fairly mum on gun control as a lever for prevention). The proposed solutions for schools are widespread: funding for security equipment and mental-health services, calls to arm teachers, bulletproof whiteboards and metal detectors, and increased police presence. But there hasn't been firm consensus about the best path forward.
This reactive mindset is part of the problem, say Amy and Amanda Klinger, a mother-daughter duo who cofounded The Educator's School Safety Network in 2010. Amy, an associate professor of educational administration at Ashland University, and Amanda, a lawyer, are former K–12 educators who believe schools need a louder voice in safety conversations. What's missing, they argue, is comprehensive, ongoing training for the real first responders to every kind of school-related disaster: educators themselves.
The Klingers have since combined their education backgrounds with experience in crisis planning, lockdown enhancements, vulnerability assessment, and active shooter response to create training and resources tailored to schools. To date, their Ohio-based nonprofit network has worked with thousands of educators, as well as with FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.
"We know, and kids know, too, that these situations can happen anywhere," said Kim Schubert, a superintendent in Bellevue, Ohio, who has brought the Klingers to her midsized district three times since 2015. "The more you talk about it, the more you communicate a plan, the less anxiety kids feel."
With the Klingers' help, Bellevue has provided safety training to its staff and 2,000 students, formed threat-assessment teams with local law enforcement, created an anonymous text-messaging tip line for students, and implemented an annual parent-reunification drill with adult volunteers to practice how parents and students will find one another after an emergency.
Now, the Klingers want to make the network's resources more accessible to schools who don't pay for in-person services. Their new book, Keeping Students Safe Every Day, released in August by ASCD, distills lessons from past crisis responses to provide a roadmap for preventing, handling, and recovering from school-related emergencies.
ASCD recently talked with the Klingers about the safety issues schools are up against today and how to keep students safe from the moment they step off the school bus.

Do You Fear for Your Child's Safety at School?

eu_201810_ufig4-1.gif

How would you describe the state of school safety in 2018?

Amy: There's more attention than in recent years, so that's a good thing. We've seen a significant increase in threats as well as incidents, so that's a bad thing. But it's at a bit of a tipping point in terms of where we can go with this energy and interest and scrutiny. We also see a huge increase in for-profit, quick-fix solutions that are not education-based.

The school safety conversation features many approaches and opinions. How is yours different?

Amanda: We never go into a school during a training and say, "You must do this." We'll say: "Here's what we know from past events, here's what we know to be true from research, here are some things that have worked in other places." Teachers know what's best for their classroom. That's the professional judgment we ask of them in the work that they're primarily doing—educating kids. We're trying to provide knowledge of safety so that they can make the best decisions with their professional judgment moving forward.
Amy: If every gun in the world disappeared today, you would still have school safety problems. So, it's really important that we stop having people talk at schools and instead have schools take a much more active role in the conversation and come at this from an educational viewpoint—not a political viewpoint, not a gun-control viewpoint, not a law-enforcement viewpoint. It starts with empowering and training the people who are in schools every single day to be able to detect, prevent, and respond to violence.

When you go into a school, what does the work look like?

Amanda: There are commonalities, but we work closely with schools to help them determine their areas of highest need. Sometimes that looks like doing vulnerability and needs assessments. Sometimes law enforcement or security companies will do assessments where they're looking at locks and fencing. We do look at that component, but … we're also looking at, What's the climate and culture of the school? Is there adequate supervision before school and during dismissal?
We know from past experiences that disclosures of information from students can help us prevent violence. How do we increase disclosures? Then we have a discussion with educators to find out the obstacles to disclosure in their schools and how we can overcome them. As a culture, more broadly, we've gotten to a "listicle" mentality: Just give me the top five tips for keeping kids safe! We do want things to be easily accessible, but we can't forget the why of what we are trying to accomplish.
Amy: Some schools we work with we call our poster children, and they have some common characteristics. (1) They have implemented safety as a daily operational procedure. They don't do it once a year and then never think about it until a problem occurs. (2) They have worked on a holistic approach: prevention, mitigation of potential threats, and response. (3) They have made training their centerpiece. Every person in the building needs to be trained, starting with teachers, support staff, and students.
eu_201810_ufig4-1b.gif

Many young people are leading the charge for safer schools, particularly on issues of gun violence. What are your recommendations to involve more students in broader safety conversations?

Amanda: Leverage the ability that young people have demonstrated on that one issue and try to expand the scope. A tragedy like Parkland is horrific, but if a kid gets hit by a bus at dismissal because we didn't have adequate supervision and procedures, that's a tragedy, too. We also still have issues with LGBT students who do not have welcoming school environments. We would love to see the impressive level of advocacy and involvement expanded to a broader conversation of safety as a sustained comprehensive approach.
Amy: It speaks to the need for students to be much more intimately involved in safety procedures and planning and violence prevention. We have largely divorced them. Students and teachers are literally dying in hallways without getting the adequate training they need to prevent these events and respond to them.

How do schools engage students in age-appropriate safety training?

Amanda: The notion of burning to death sounds terrifying, but we can have conversations with our youngest students about stop, drop, and roll. The problem is that some approaches, especially in response to active shooters, are not developmentally appropriate. For example, you read about lockdown drills where the kids are upset because the drill includes pounding on the doors and firing blanks in the hallway. We frankly need to leverage the incredible skills and creativity of our educators—who can imbue academic skills in kids—to do this school safety work in a way that's appropriate. A good example we've seen is teachers who practice for a rapid evacuation with very young students. At recess, they practice running together from point A to point B, but set rules that no one can get left behind or trampled. It doesn't have to be scary or intimidating, but students can learn to quickly follow safety commands from trusted adults.

What about preparing for recovery in the aftermath of a crisis?

Amy: I think recovery is the forgotten stepchild of crisis planning. People tend to believe that unless you've had an incredibly horrific crisis event like Parkland or Hurricane Katrina, recovery doesn't need to occur. You can have the death of a teacher or a tornado that impacted the community but not the school and still need to enact recovery activities to provide people with appropriate support. It looks like social and emotional support, mental-health counseling, and the logistical things: When are we going to reopen? How do we acknowledge the tragedy? One of the things we talk about most postcrisis are strategies for parent reunification. That's something that needs to be present in every single district.

What's the central message you want to convey to schools?

Amanda: When the only demand is that we do something about school safety, we end up with some of these tools that aren't effective. It's that shift from reactionary demanding to well-reasoned, well-thought-out advocacy: here is a policy or procedure that's going to help us be able to account for students, whether we left because the boiler exploded or because there was an active shooter event.
Amy: The message that we try to communicate in every training is that school safety is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Schools have this incredible pressure, and what we hear from a lot of teachers and administrators is that they are so overwhelmed with all the potential pieces that they don't know where to start. I use the analogy of eating an elephant: Just do it a bite at a time.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kate Stoltzfus is an editor and writer for ASCD.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Related Articles
View all
undefined
Leadership
A Guided Meditation for School Leaders (Audio)
Meena Srinivasan
1 month ago

undefined
Making Time for Well-Being
Sarah Miles & Denise Pope et al.
1 month ago

undefined
Educator Well-Being 2.0
Chase Mielke
1 month ago

undefined
Responding to Intolerance: Leadership for a Multiracial Democracy
John Rogers & Joseph Kahne
2 months ago

undefined
Preventing "Wellness Fraud" for Leaders
Jo Lein
2 months ago
Related Articles
A Guided Meditation for School Leaders (Audio)
Meena Srinivasan
1 month ago

Making Time for Well-Being
Sarah Miles & Denise Pope et al.
1 month ago

Educator Well-Being 2.0
Chase Mielke
1 month ago

Responding to Intolerance: Leadership for a Multiracial Democracy
John Rogers & Joseph Kahne
2 months ago

Preventing "Wellness Fraud" for Leaders
Jo Lein
2 months ago