5 ways to tell if your child's school is safe
Recent school shootings have many parents feeling anxious and wondering what they can do to protect their kids.
“Parents need to remember that school shootings are rare, random and unpredictable,” says Tommy Burns, a private security and policing consultant, and an instructor in the criminal justice program at the University of Phoenix Las Vegas Campus. In 2010, 17 children were killed at school, down from 30 a year in the 1990s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, he says, a constructive way to respond to such frightening events is to determine how prepared your child’s school is for an emergency. Here’s what to do:
Visit the school.
One of the best ways to evaluate school security is to take a tour, says Burns, a former police chief. He suggests making an appointment with the principal to inspect buildings and grounds. “Walk the halls,” Burns advises. “Look for adult supervision in the form of hall monitors and other security staff. Are entry doors kept locked? Are visitors required to register with the school office?”
Hector Garcia, a security consultant, former police chief and online instructor in the University’s organizational security and management program, agrees.
“The schools of yesteryear were built to be open and welcoming, but times have changed,” he says.
“Does the school look secure — is there a fence around the grounds?” He also recommends noting signs of crime in the neighborhood, such as graffiti and broken car windows, because that can spill onto school property.
Ask about security plans.
All schools should have security and emergency response plans, says Garcia, who spent more than 25 years in law enforcement, mostly assigned to public schools.
“Security plans and protocols are generally kept confidential to keep them from falling into the wrong hands,” he explains, adding that you should ask whether such policies exist. In addition to preparing for violence, school administrators should have detailed strategies for handling fires, tornadoes, floods and other disasters, and should require frequent drills.
Check public documents.
Numerous government resources provide information about whether schools have security problems, Garcia notes. “The No Child Left Behind law requires that each state maintain and publish a database of persistently dangerous schools,” he says. “Check if your child’s school is on [your state’s] list.”
Other information sources include crime reports — often published in local newspapers and online — community-based policing organizations and your Neighborhood Watch group.
Talk to your child.
Burns advises parents to train their children to report anything suspicious. “Don’t assume it’s a joke or a prank,” he says. Eighty-one percent of all school shooters had told at least one person — usually another classmate — they intended to commit violence, according to a U.S. Secret Service report on school shootings.
If you’re still concerned about your school’s safety, take action. “Join your local PTA, talk to the principal, get to know the school board, write to legislators,” Garcia says. “Go up the chain of command if you aren’t getting the results you want.”