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What to Say to Students about School Violence

From http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/schoolsafety_admin.aspx

What to Say to Students

Information for students should be based entirely on their need, developmental age, and relationship/proximity to the event. The goal is to reassure students that although there is always a possibility of violence occurring in a school, the probability of a school experiencing a high profile violent act is extremely low. Following are some suggested general key points that can be adapted to your school(s):

General Points/Key Messages

  • Schools are safe places. Our school staff works with your parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
  • Our building is safe because….
  • We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
  • There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

     

  • Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you (our school community).
  • Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event. 
  • Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol. 
  • Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
  • Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
  • For Parents: Open communication between home and school is critical to the safety and well-being of our students and your children. Let us know if you have a concern or question about school policies or your child’s safety. Know if your child’s friends have access to guns. Keep any guns in your house locked up and away from children of all ages.

Helpful Guidelines to Keep in Mind

1. Any conversation with a student must be developmentally appropriate.

Young children are not able to process the complexities of violence in the same way that adolescents and young adults are prepared to discuss the issue. Young children often gauge how threatening an event is by adult reactions (i.e., if caregivers act scared and frightened, young children will view the event as scary and frightening). They may be confused by what they hear and may have basic fear responses such as bad dreams, resistance to separate from their parent, and/or crying and clinginess. They respond well to basic assurances by adults and simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

Older children and teenagers may have more information about an event as they are commonly able to access information independent of adults via the Internet and television. For these youth, it is important to discuss issues openly emphasizing the efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools. It is also important to emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs. 

2. Communicate to parents about the conversations that school personnel have had with students.

Schools need to keep parents informed about how they are responding to student questions and any type of support that has been made available for students struggling with the crisis. Copies of announcements or formal statements should be available to parents. Additionally, if teachers working with older students choose to have classroom discussions about the event linked to their instructional activities, parents should be made aware of these activities and any suggestions for following up at home should be offered.

3. Provide parents (and teachers) with guidelines for talking with children about violence.

Encourage parents to talk with their children and validate their feelings. They should children’s questions guide what and how much information to provide, be open to opportunities to talk when children are ready, honest about their own feelings related to violence, and emphasize the positive things that child/family/school can do to stay safe. They should be aware of signs that their child might be in distress, e.g., changes in behavior, anxiety, sleep problems, acting out, problems at school or with academic work. Remind parents and teachers to be conscious of media exposure and what they say about the event. Limit television viewing, (be aware if the television is on in common areas). Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

4. Reinforce student strengths and focus on normal routines and activities.

Most high profile school tragedies will prompt schools to have some type of public response depending upon the developmental levels of the students, the school’s history of related events, or the proximity of the crisis to a community. Only the local school administrators and community leaders who are aware of the school and student’s history can judge the extent to which a response is warranted. Where schools do choose to alter their daily routines to address students concerns, large or small, it is important to know that one of the best ways for students to recover from the effects of a tragedy is to maintain or return to their normal school routines. Normal routines help establish a sense of calm and predictability important to maintaining effective learning environments. Schools should recognize that depending on the impact of the event on individuals, not all students will quickly be able to make these transitions back to the normal routine and that counseling and psychological services should be available for those continuing to require some support and guidance

5. Consider the cultures, traditions, religions and family/community values of students in any school response.

It is important that schools respect the values, traditions, beliefs and customs of the students and their families impacted by the crisis. If outside crisis responders are called in it is important that they learn about cultural issues, usually through partnerships and consultation with community members who can share fundamental guidelines for appropriate interactions.  Remember not everyone processes strong emotions through conversation. Some children and adults may need to respond through art, poetry, prayer, or activity.

NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at www.nasponline.org.

©2006, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402BethesdaMD 20814,www.nasponline.org

What Can Parents do about School Safety?

Information from http://www.schoolsecurity.org/faq/parents.html

10 Practical Things Parents Can Do to

Assess School Security and Crisis Preparedness

by

Kenneth S. Trump, M.P.A.

National School Safety and Security Services

1. Ask your child about safety in his or her school. Students often know where gaps in security exist and what can be done to improve school safety.  Where do they feel most safe? Least safe? Why? What can be done to improve safety?   

2.  Identify comfort levels and methods for reporting safety concerns.  Do students have at least one adult they would feel comfortable in reporting safety concerns to at school? Are there other methods (hotlines, email tip lines, etc.) for students to report concerns? Are parents comfortable in addressing safety concerns with school administrators?

3.  Examine access to your school.  Are there a reduced number of doors that can be accessed from the outside (while still allowing children to exit from the inside in an emergency)?  Do faculty and staff greet visitors, challenge strangers and know who is in their school? Are there sign-in procedures, visitor identification badges, etc.?  

4.  Find out if your school has policies and procedures on security and emergency preparedness.  Does your board and administration have written policies and procedures related to security, crisis preparedness planning, and overall school safety planning? If so, are they communicated clearly and regularly to students, school employees and parents? How? When?

5.  Determine if your school has a “living” school safety team, safety plan and ongoing process, as well as a school crisis team and school emergency/crisis preparedness guidelines.  Does your school have a school safety committee to develop an overall plan for prevention, intervention, and security issues? Are these plans balanced and not just prevention-only or security-only? Is there a school crisis team to deal with emergency planning?  Who are members of the safety committee and crisis team? How often do they meet? Is there a written school crisis plan? Are there written emergency/crisis guidelines? Are these plans and guidelines reviewed regularly - at least once a year?  (Note: Many schools have one overall team to address both overall safety planning and crisis preparedness.  Two separate groups are not necessary as long as they are dealing with all of the various issues and components.)  

 

6.  Inquire with school and public safety officials as to whether school officials use internal security specialists and outside public safety resources to develop safety plans and crisis guidelines.  Do school officials actively involve internal school security specialists, School Resource Officers, and other school safety specialists in developing safety plans and crisis guidelines? Do school officials have meaningful, working relationships with police, fire and other public safety agencies serving their schools? Are they involved on school safety committees and teams and/or do they have direct input on school plans?   

7. Ask if school emergency/crisis guidelines are tested and exercised. Do school officials test and exercise written crisis guidelines?  What type of tests do they do? For example, if they have a lockdown procedure, do they conduct periodic drills to practice them? If they cannot have full-scale exercises of emergency plans (which are often difficult to do), do they at least do tabletop exercises to test written plans?

8. Determine whether school employees, including support personnel, have received training on school security and crisis preparedness issues.  Have school employees received training on security and emergency strategies by local, state and/or national specialists? Have employees also received training on their school/district specific crisis guidelines?  Are all employees, including support personnel such as secretaries and custodians, included in such training? How often is such training provided? Is the training provided by qualified and experienced instructors with knowledge of K-12 specific safety issues? 

9. Find out if school officials use outside resources and sources in their ongoing school safety assessments.  Do school officials subscribe to current publications addressing security issues? Do they attend conferences and programs on school safety? Have they reviewed their security measures, crisis guidelines and safety plans with recommendations by school safety experts?  

10. Honestly evaluate whether you, as a parent, are doing your part in making schools safe.  Do you follow parking, visitor, and other safety procedures at your school? Do you support teachers and administrators with safety initiatives, including by asking the above questions in a supportive, non-blaming manner? Do you talk with your child about personal safety considerations, drug and violence prevention issues, and related topics early and regularly at home?  Do you seek professional help for your child in a timely manner, if needed?

What are some practical things parents can do at home to reduce child safety risks?

Parents can take many steps to address the many threats to child safety in schools, at home ,and in the community. Examples of such steps include:

  • Talk with children early and regularly about gangs, drugs, weapons, school and community safety, and related concerns.

  • When you talk with children, BE HONEST!  Violence and related trauma issues are serious, but more damage can be done by minimizing or exaggerating points than by simply providing children with facts and telling the truth.

  • Do NOT assume that your child knows even the "basic" facts about safety and other risks. Kids absorb a lot of information and, unfortunately, much of it is inaccurate or from questionable sources.  Let your child get all of the information - the correct information - from you as the parent.  And give it to them in a non-threatening and non-embarrassing time, place, and manner.  Perhaps then your child will be more willing to come to you with other questions and problems later on!

  • Eliminate access to weapons by youth.

  • Be aware of and do not permit gang identifiers.

  • Provide order, structure, and consistent discipline in the home.

  • Work cooperatively with police and school officials.

  • Seek professional assistance when needed and in a timely manner.  Do NOT wait until a problem gets out of control and then look for professional help

  • Parents must provide order, structure and consistent discipline. Although you love your child, realize that he or she is still a kid and will test the limits. Ask probing questions: Where are you going? Who will be with you? And do some follow-up to verify the answers you get!

  • Inspect your child's room from time to time. Parents have found gang graffiti on bedroom walls, drug paraphernalia on dresser tops, sexually explicit notes, weapons in book bags leaving the home, graffiti and revealing information on school notebooks, and much, much more once they get up the nerve to start snooping! Unfortunately, some parents falsely believe that they should not- or legally cannot - go into their child's room. It is your house and your child - check them both and check them regularly! It is not only your right, but your responsibility!!!

    REsource: http://www.schoolsecurity.org/faq/parents.html

Where can I find additional information