The Quest for School Safety

How parents can help make their child's school more secure.

One of the more chilling realizations to come from the recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania is how vulnerable schools are to attacks. “If you take the incidents and isolated them, no real common thread exists," says Peter Pochowski, executive director of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers. "We have freedoms in this country, and we have people with serious problems. And it’s just not feasible for every school to have metal detectors right now. "

At the same time, says Pochowski," a locked door or an adult asking, 'Can I help you?' can be just enough to slow a guy down." To that end, schools across the country have begun to re-examine their security and emergency preparedness policies. While some have installed security personnel at front doors and cameras throughout hallways, others have begun to organize drills that direct teachers and children to safe havens in the event of an emergency. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, has called for a summit to determine how the government can help schools become safer.

But the most important people in the fight to protect our schools may very well be parents. “There are so many potential issues, from terrorist attacks to chemical spills, that they need to be aware of,” Pochowski says. “Getting involved in plans for these is crucial.” Here are some ways to do your part:

  • Seek out the principal to talk about her approach toward school safety and specific crisis preparedness plans. "More than swipe cards and electronic devices, an active, engaged principal sets the tone for the entire building," says Pochowski.
  • Find out how you can volunteer to make the school a safer place. From checking visitors in at the door to simply walking around and observing something like a frayed wire or a broken lock, “parents often notice things that administrators who are there every day, and often very, very busy, overlook,” says Pochowski.
  • Talk to your children in age-appropriate ways about what they've learned at school about being prepared. Older kids, especially, should be able to articulate the specific steps they've been instructed to take in certain situations.
  • Visit the Web site of your state's department of education to learn school safety considerations specific to your area and to get the phone number of the state's school safety hotline. Post the number near your phone and carry it in your wallet. If your school's phone line is busy in the event of a crisis, the hotline might be able to provide information.
  • Try not to be too anxious. Your child will pick up on your cues, and “statistically, schools remain, by far, the safest places for kids to be,” says Pochowski. “Plus, cases of overreaction tend to be followed by a tapering off of concern. We need parents to be consistently engaged in making the schools a safer place.”
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