Friday, January 26, 2018

Securing your school

Building security is of utmost importance in providing for the school as a safe house. This is only one piece of the puzzle but an important piece. Of course getting control of guns is essential. Within the school, however, begin with a security check that assesses every possible means of entry for someone intent on doing harm. Every possible entrance to the building must either be locked, or covered by a staff member. A buzzer system to control entry combined with a camera, or a supervised entry will help to assure no one enters the building with the intent to do harm. And will provide a welcoming environment.
Be alert! If someone wears a trench coat and has stiff leg, on a 90 degree day, he might be carrying a gun. 
Always give consideration to having a friendly environment that allows for student and parents to be comfortable in the school setting. Given the focus on that environment, security is always an issue. 
A check around the doors should show that there are no adjacent windows that can be broken to allow access to a door handle and easy entry. When adjacent windows are a problem, security is easily provided through a door handle guard. This simple hardware change could make the difference between life and death. Added to that, an alarm system and well-placed cameras can help monitor any suspicious activity.   
            In addition to securing the building, a check of the perimeter must be ongoing. It is much better to observe potential problems as they approach the building rather than after. In severe cases that gives police a head-start on dealing with the problem. In potentially less severe cases, it gives school safety or teachers in charge to meet the problem outside the school long before disruption to students occurs.
There are many ways to do this. Currently the use of technology allows various options including the use of drones. They are inexpensive and would be good for the use of perimeter control in areas where crime is more active. If not available, cameras or personal surveillance would also be valuable, not only to the school but to the immediate community. More “eyes” in the community equals less problematic activity. All children must feel safe in their school. Knowing that every entrance is secured, every potential violent act is dealt with and every educator is alert to assure the comfort and safety of every student. There are no short cuts when it comes to the safety of every child. No school, wherever it is, is exempt. The teachers, parents, children and community must know that the school is the ultimate safe house. 
Security begins at the front door with every policy rigidly enforced. We want to assure all visitors that they are welcome to the school; at the same time, we must assure no dangerous individuals are allowed to enter. There are some simple steps that can stop trouble at the front door:
·         Every visitor entering the building must immediately be escorted to the office to check in.
·         Every visitor must receive a pass that is visible, to go to their designated location.
·         The employee or student to be visited must be contacted prior to the visitor leaving the office.
·         Schools should consider metal detectors if deemed necessary.
·         An emergency buzzer may be considered for every classroom to alert administration to the need for assistance.
Although this seems cumbersome, the process will take only a minute or two and all will feel safe.
In schools around the country gun tragedies are happening.  The data shows most guns involved in the shootings came from the perpetrators home. Due to so many recent tragedies in schools, every school must be secured both by a well secure building and a crisis plan for all emergency situations. 
The reality is that gun violence can happen anywhere. High powered weapons are available to anyone who wants them. This is a problem that faces every school in the nation. No school is safe from gun violence as evidenced by the actions of the past years. 
The numbers of shootings in schools are a reality check indicating schools are at risk everywhere, no matter how large or how small. Every school shooting, even when there are no injuries or deaths, are traumatic to students. According to the United States Center for Disease Control, ¨Not all injuries are visible. Exposure to youth violence and school violence can lead to a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use, and suicide. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychological problems, including fear, can result from school violence. ¨ This is a major health concern for all young people. The problem is evident but what is the solution?
            A plan of action is necessary for the safety of all. Short of having police officers in the school, it is essential that they are nearby and prepared for any incident that might occur. Communications with local police departments must focus on a continuous update of the needs of the safety of the school. A close relationship with the police is always a good policy with regular visitations to the school not only for visibility but to make presentations to classes on a variety of issues related to safety.
            Teachers must always be vigilant no matter how safe the school seems to be. Remember, word of mouth is the best way of determining potential problems. Know your students, have good connections with your students because someone usually know when something bad will happen. 
Utilizing professionals in psychology, they must be trained to recognize danger signs in the action of students. These signs must never be ignored. Although it is important not to over react, it is as important to make teachers and support staff aware of the slightest signs of problems. Remember, with 81% of school shooters, someone had information that the shootings might happen.
It is important for a team of educators and police officers to form a committee to devise security related policies in the school. A referral process must then be activated. Upon activation, a wide variety of responses would be implemented. Everything from simple school counseling to a psychiatric referral must be on the table. Teaming with parents and community members will assure a better chance to prevent a crisis from happening.
            The most noticeable warning signs include students displaying social problems, especially social isolation. For adolescents, being a part of a social group, no matter how small, is extremely important. Those who deliberately choose not to be a part of the group may need help. According to , ¨another warning sign is thoughts or actions focused on violence. Expressing violent fantasies or engaging in acts of aggression toward animals may indicate a problem.” Finally, a change in behaviors and performance in schools is another indicator. The school psychologist would be able to provide more detailed information and must be consulted on a regular basis. Do not let any of these concerns pass you by. Respond accordingly before it is too late. as for students, if you see something, say something.  word of mouth works best.  Also if you see someone who needs a friend, be a friend.  Lives might be saved.
            Mental health and drug and alcohol involvement go hand in hand. Those afflicted are more likely to be involved in gun violence. Alcoholism is a family disease. It affects everyone in the family in one way or another. Those who have the disease have a tough road to beating it, while those family members who are left to deal with it on an everyday basis have tremendous emotional stress. This disease is one that may not be allowed to persevere in schools or anywhere else. It is easy to believe the alcoholic can stop drinking whenever they want, but that is simply not the case. Although not curable, an alcoholic can be in recovery. The beginning of that process is when an educator recognizes the problem.
            According to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs program, these may be signs of addiction;
·         Appearing under the influence in class
·         Smelling of alcohol during the day
·         Missed coursework or classes due to alcohol or drug use.
·         Preoccupation with alcohol and other drug use, which may be evident in conversation.
·         Changes in academic performance
·         Changes in mood or behavior
·         Getting into fights or becoming aggressive while under the influence
·         Inability to control drinking; drinking more than intended; inability to have just one or two drinks.
·         Increase in tolerance to alcohol use.
·         Trouble with police or school officials because of alcohol or drug use.
·         Expressed concern from others because of the usage
·         Blackouts (loss of memory) from alcohol or drug use
·         Drinking or drug use as a main priority.
As for intervention, it is important not to let any inappropriate behaviors go unnoticed.
·         Privately let the student know you are genuinely concerned.
·         Describe to the student the specific behaviors that have caused you to be concerned.
·         Speak to the student in an objective, unequivocal way.
·         Have resource information available.
·         Attempt to redirect the conversation when the student provides irrational excuses.
·         Offer to assist the student in making the contact with the appropriate program that deals with alcohol and/or drug abuse.
Remember, as an educator, you are the one who can make the difference. Often the student will have to hit rock bottom before finding help. Hopefully that will allow them to live.
When a major problem occurs within the building, a policy must be in place to deal with it. All staff must know what they are going to do to protect the safety of the children. This begins with a signal from the administrator. It is often best to have a code word that can be announced over the public-address system signaling teachers to act without causing students to panic.
Every teacher will have an assignment. Those with classes will shut and lock the doors. Others will have assignments to go to specific checkpoints or prepare a staging area for police and as a communication center. Two will be assigned to call police. As the problem progresses, further directions would be given. In the case of shots fired in the building, an additional signal will notify teachers.
Following the incident, a room will be made available to meet with the press and make calls to parents. If the building is made safe, parents would be able to come to that area to pick up their children.
Although this may sound harsh to those who live in areas they perceive are safe, simply remember, mental health issues can happen anywhere. Hate is spreading like wildfire to every corner of the world and those who are on the edge are the most vulnerable.

There are many ways to do damage to children during their tender K-12 school years. Whether it is protecting their souls from the spoken evils in today’s world or from the dangers that lurk around every corner, nothing should be ignored. Although there are many irrational fears, a strong, well thought out safety plan must be in place for those fears that may become real. 
Cap Lee