As a crisis unfolds at a school, the highest priority for all parents becomes locating and ensuring the safety of their children. That is why, as we move toward the beginning of another school year, it is vital (and required in Ohio Revised Code) that we inform parents on how schools will notify parents of emergencies, both big and small. Prior to the opening day of each school year, make sure to remind your students and their parents how they will receive information during an emergency. The more school administrators communicate this with parents, the more likely they are to follow the direction in the messages.
You also will want to make sure that your school’s emergency management plans reflect any recent changes to your staff or school campus, even if your school was required to complete the July 1 certification. It is important to review the emergency contact sheets and procedures after summer break and to make sure that what you have on file with the Ohio Department of Education and local first responders is current. The beginning of the school year also is a great time to review your emergency plan procedures with staff, both new staff members and those that have been with the school for a while, well before a crisis occurs.
Finally, you’ll want to keep in mind the annual emergency management test requirement for all school buildings. Emergency management plans are only truly effective when students, teachers, administrators, staff and first responders all know what to expect (and how to react to) a crisis in your building. Tests also provide an excellent opportunity to identify strengths and address deficiencies in emergency plans. For more information on this requirement, please click here and scroll to the 'Emergency Management Test' section on page four.
And, as always, let me know how I can help you make our schools safer.
By Jill J. Jackson, Ph.D.
Student’s come to school with a constellation of personal, social and familial issues that they cannot ‘check at the door’ of the school. Their experiences at school and at home affect both their interactions with others and, ultimately, how they are able to perform in the classroom. Anticipating student challenges and being prepared adequately to address those challenges is vitally important in an educator’s quest to help all students learn (ODE, 2007a).
While it is critical for educators to understand and empathize with how a child feels upon arriving at school; it is equally important to know the way that a school “feels” has a direct effect on learning. In schools where students feel safe, cared about and respected, learning and safety increases measurably. In schools with safe, supportive learning environments where youth become connected to school, students are less likely to engage in disruptive and destructive behavior and more likely to graduate from high school (Ladson-Billings, 2009, p.4). Since the primary mission of schools is to educate and graduate students, school leaders and the school staff need to work closely with youth, parents and community organizations to provide services that address issues and behaviors that could interfere with safety, learning and graduating (ODE, 2004).
Challenges in meeting students’ social emotional needs has prompted a statewide conversation about ways that schools could and should become involved in helping students address these non-academic barriers to learning. Driven by a System of Care Concept and Philosophy, schools should participate in a coordinated network of community-based services and supports for children with or at risk for mental health, health or other challenges. The network builds meaningful partnerships with families to help them function better at home, in school, in the community and throughout life (ODE, 2007b). How a school is valued and operates effectively within the context of community increases or decreases students’ chances of academic success (Marzano & Waters, 2005).
Since the 2013-2014 school year, public schools in Ohio have been required to adopt policies and procedures regarding Ohio’s Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). PBIS is a decision-making framework that guides selection, integration and implementation of the best evidenced-based academic and behavioral practices for improving outcomes for all students (ODE, 2016a). Many educators are finding that the most effective way to address disruptive behaviors are to identify them before they happen. Thus, the solution is a proactive, consistent approach to schoolwide supports provided by the Ohio PBIS model, local partners and effective prevention strategies. Using the PBIS framework, schools have seen reductions in disciplinary actions and increases in academic achievement. When PBIS is implemented, educators have more time to teach and students have more time to learn (ODE, 2016a).
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Education’s Safety and Violence Prevention Curriculum is designed to heighten educators’ awareness of student mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide, and violence against children, including bullying, teen dating violence child abuse, and human trafficking. While it is not designed to provide an in-depth and comprehensive training on mental health for educators, this curriculum will allow staff to identity and refer students with unmet youth development needs to the designee in the building to connect with existing resources used by the school, including PBIS activities (ODE, 2007a).
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, schools that promote mental health report higher academic achievement, lower absenteeism and fewer behavior problems. As schools begin building positive behavioral intervention strategies, inventories of community and family resources will assist schools in aligning community service providers to support students’ mental health, safety and academic outcomes (ODE, 2007a). We look forward to school and district administrators using the Ohio Improvement Process and community partnerships to address school climate and academic achievement to create safe and supportive teaching and learning environments in Ohio.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The Dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Marzano, R. J., & Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
Ohio Department of Education (ODE) (2007a), Safety and Violence Prevention Training. Retrieved July 11, 2016 https://saferschools.ohio.gov/content/k_12_schools_training
ODE (2004). Ohio Department of Education, School Climate Guidelines. Retrieved July 11, 2016 https://saferschools.ohio.gov/content/ohio_school_climate_guidelines
ODE (2016a). Ohio Department of Education, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Retrieved July 11, 2016 http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Other-Resources/School-Safety/Building-Better-Learning-Environments/PBIS-Resources
ODE (2016a). Ohio Department of Education, Center for School Based Mental Health Programs. Retrieved July 11, 2016 https://saferschools.ohio.gov/content/school_mental_health
OMHAS (2016). Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Safe Schools Healthy Students. Retrieved July 11, 2016 http://mha.ohio.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=843
An excerpt from "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective"
Mary Ellen O'Toole, PHD – Supervisory Special Agent - FBI
Inform students and parents of school policies: A school should publicize its threat response and intervention program at the beginning of every school year (or to new students when they transfer into the school). The school should clearly explain what is expected of students — for example, students who know about a threat are expected to inform school authorities. The school also should make clear to parents that if their child makes a threat of any kind, they will be contacted and will be expected to provide information to help evaluate the threat.
Designate a threat assessment coordinator: One person in a school — or perhaps several in a large school — should be assigned to oversee and coordinate the school's response to all threats. The designated coordinator may be the principal, another administrator, a school psychologist, resource officer or any other staff member. The school should find appropriate threat assessment training programs for whoever is designated.
When any threat is made, whoever receives it or first becomes aware of it should refer it immediately to the designated coordinator, and school policy should explicitly give the coordinator the necessary authority to make or assist in making quick decisions on how to respond — including implementing the school's emergency response plan, if the threat warrants.
The coordinator's specific responsibilities will be determined in each school, in accord with the professional judgment of the principal and administrative staff. They could include: arranging for an initial assessment when a threat is received to determine the level of threat; conducting or overseeing an evaluation after the person who made the threat is identified, using the Four-Pronged Assessment Model; developing and refining the threat management system; monitoring intervention in previous cases; establishing a liaison with other school staff and outside experts; and maintaining consistency and continuity in the school's threat response procedures.
Consider forming a multidisciplinary team: As well as appointing a threat assessment coordinator, schools may decide to establish a multidisciplinary team as another component of the threat assessment system. Schools could draw team members from school staff and other professionals, including trained mental health professionals. The team would constitute an experienced, knowledgeable group that could review threats, consult with outside experts and provide recommendations and advice to the coordinator and to the school administration.
It is strongly recommended that a law enforcement representative should either be included as a member of the team or regularly consulted as a resource person. Making threats can be a criminal offense, depending on the threat and the laws of each state. Although most school threats may not lead to prosecution, school officials need informed, professional advice on when a criminal violation has occurred and what actions may be required by state or local laws.
It is especially important that a school not deal with threats by simply kicking the problem out the door. Expelling or suspending a student for making a threat must not be a substitute for careful threat assessment and a considered, consistent policy of intervention. Disciplinary action alone, unaccompanied by any effort to evaluate the threat or the student's intent, may actually exacerbate the danger — for example, if a student feels unfairly or arbitrarily treated and becomes even angrier and more bent on carrying out a violent act.
The OHIO’S SAFE AND VIOLENCE FREE SCHOOLS CONFERENCE will be Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ohio Department of Transportation, 1980 West Broad Street, Columbus, 43223.
The conference’s theme is School and Community Partnerships: What’s Working to Reduce Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying.
Attendees will learn about:
A strength-based, asset development approach for creating safe and violence-free schools;
Tools for systems change to create safe and violence-free schools;
The use of partnerships to create safe and violence-free schools; and
How to create a Learning Community to support local safe and violence-free school activities.
The day will include strategic planning activities for participants to identify critical needs, partners and processes to create local safe and violence-free schools.
The Ohio Department of Education’s Center for P-20 Safety and Security, along with the Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Initiative, are sponsoring this conference. To register for the free conference, first create a SAFE account with the Ohio Department of Education. Then, access the STARS site to register for Ohio’s Safe and Violence-Free Schools Conference.
As your district or school considers new additions to your School Emergency Management Plan, you may be evaluating the need and cost of safe rooms. A safe room provides shelter and protection in the event of a tornado or severe weather. These secure and reinforced rooms may help your staff and students avoid the risks and potential dangers that may arise in other parts of the building during emergencies.
Additionally, safe rooms are recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reduce future loss of life and property, so the agency created the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. This program annually awards grants to retrofit existing facilities or fund new safe room construction projects.
Pre-disaster mitigation and flood mitigation assistance are available annually to your district or school for building or retrofitting safe rooms. The application, which is a detailed proposal, is typically due in the spring. Since 2014, Ohio has received more than $18 million from the Hazard Mitigation Program.
Start planning now to apply for this opportunity. Click here for more information.