When we registered Zane for this particular school, I immediately noticed that they have cameras everywhere. I'm a bit obsessive about safety, so I notice things like that. In the school office, behind the receptionist, is a bank of monitors which reveal what those cameras see. That bank of cameras got me thinking about emergency planning and school safety, subjects dear to my heart. We leave our children in the hands of others for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week. I want anyone working with my son to have at least a passing acquaintance with school safety. At the very least, they should know where the fire exits are!
There's a lot to think about, when it comes to emergency planning and schools. This sunk in when I started taking some of the free classes offered online at the FEMA website, and hasn't diminished in importance over the years. I am not just thinking of school shootings, but of the more 'mundane' types of emergencies, such as fires, tornadoes, floods, and hazardous spills. Even if nothing ever happens, I feel better knowing that the school has plans in place to keep my child safe in the event of an emergency.
In that spirit, here are some questions every parent needs to ask their child's school, either before school starts, or soon after the first day. The school may label you as one of "those" parents, but that's okay. These are questions that need to be asked, if only for your own peace of mind.
1. What is the procedure for contacting parents in the event of an emergency? I'm not just talking about the sort of emergency where your child fell and cut themselves and now requires stitches. If there is a fire at your child's school, if there is a hazardous chemical spill and the area has to be evacuated, how will the school contact you? Some campuses have an automated system, others are on the Emergency Email Network or something similiar, that sends out a mass text or email to alert people to an event. Whatever is in use, parents should know about it and be able to access it.
2. What is the procedure for releasing a child to someone other than a parent? No parent wants to hear that their child was released to a complete stranger. We also don't want to have to come down to the police station to pick up our mother-in-law because she tried to check Junior out of school early to take him to the dentist. Occasionally, a child's grandmother may have to pick up a child from school, or maybe an aunt or uncle or even a family friend. Every campus should have procedures about who is allowed to pick up students. My son's school requires that the people who might be picking up a student have their names, addresses, phone numbers on file. Students are only released to the people on that list, who are required to show their driver's license in the front office. Other campuses may require fingerprinting, background checks, driver's license numbers, etc.
3. In the event of a "Shelter-In-Place" or a "Lockdown", what is the procedure? If your child's school has no idea what these two terms refer to, I would be concerned. Parents need to know what those terms mean and what those procedures may entail, no matter how farfetched. Knowledge is power in the event of an emergency. Knowing some of the procedures may help a parent feel less anxious about the process, because these situations are scary enough. What parents also need to understand is that it is not always possible to release students to their parents immediately or on demand in these situations. We may want to spirit our child out of the situations, get them to safety, but sometimes it is safer for the kids to stay where they are.
4. How do you monitor visitors to the campus? My son's campus has cameras all over the place, but they also lock the outside doors once school begins. If a visitor arrives, they are required to sign in at the office, get a visitor's pass, and to ring the bell to get into the building. That person must see the visitor's pass before they will open the door. I like this procedure, even if it takes me a little time; it means that this school takes campus security seriously. They want to know who is on campus, so they've taken measures to keep track. That's a good thing.
5. How can I help? It's not just up to the school to think about school safety. Every parent can help keep their child's campus safe. In fact, it is your responsibility as a parent to do so. Knowing the procedures is a good start, but keeping the campus safe means following the rules. That means no parking in the fire lanes because you don't feel like waiting in the pickup line. No propping open doors that are supposed to be locked so you don't have to go to the office and sign in. No speeding through school zones while yakking on a cell phone. Being safe also means reporting those parents who don't follow the rules. It's not tattling; it's keeping everyone safe.
Now that I've scared everyone, I'll offer this: I've worked in schools for over twenty years, and in my experiences, schools are a pretty safe place. While emergencies happen, they are not a daily occurrence. Still, knowing what procedures are in place, and knowing a little bit about emergency planning, helps me feel much better about leaving my child in that classroom all day.