Friday, August 16, 2013

My Yearly Soapbox for School Safety!

It is back to school for many children.  Mothers everywhere are rejoicing, glorying in the moment, while their children glumly contemplate their sudden lack of free time. School supplies are being bought, backpacks stuffed, new clothes arrayed in closets, lunches packed in brand new lunch boxes.

What about safety?  Children spend eight or more hours a day at school, and we parents trust that the school will keep them all safe and protected from harm.  We often trust the school so much that we don't even ask questions.  That's a mistake.  I am not saying that every school is full of broken glass and knife fights every day.  Schools do their very best, and some teachers go above and beyond to keep their charges safe, as we've seen on the news. Teachers throw themselves in front of gunmen, or huddle with their students in the bathrooms during a tornado, or simply keep an epipen handy or an inhaler close by. 
1. Go to your child's school.  Open house, Meet the Teacher, whatever.  Walk around the school with your child.  Look for the exits to the building.  Pay attention to the fire evacuation map in your child's room, and make sure a secondary evacuation route is on there. Point the map out to your child, and if you have time, walk the route to the exit with them. Find the nurse's office in relation to your child's classroom, and locate the AED(Automatic Electronic Defibrillator).  Find the cafeteria, and observe where everything is.  Parents should have a passing familiarity with the layout of the school, even if they don't go into every classroom.    

2. Meet people.  Eyeball them.  Shake hands.  Smile.  Converse, even if it is just about the weather or the latest football scores.  Make friends with other parents in your child's class, even if they seem a little strange to you at first.  Set up a parent communication chain, if you feel so inclined, so that when something happens(even a birthday!), everyone is in the loop.  Bring gifts to the secretaries at the front desk and ask about their grandchildren.  Be polite to the custodians.  A school is a community, and ideally your child will be there for more than a year.  Become part of that community. The reason for this goes beyond good manners or networking. If everyone knows everyone, then a stranger on campus will get noticed.

3. Ask about safety.  There is no reason why you can't ask questions. You're a parent, looking after your child.  So don't be afraid to ask.  Who monitors the safety of a campus?  Are all doors locked at all times? Do teachers have a first aid kit in their classroom? Does the gym teacher?  How about a phone or a call button? Who on campus is CPR certified?  In the event of a lockdown, how will parents be informed?  In the event of an evacuation from the school, how will parents be informed?  Once parents have been informed, what will be the procedure for releasing students to their parents?  Every person who works on a campus should have some passing knowledge of campus safety procedures.  If you don't like the answers from a teacher, head up the food chain to the principal, and on up. 

4. Any special instructions for your child?   If you have a student who needs extra attention during an emergency, never assume that the school knows, just because you talked to the school nurse that one time in the carpool line. Some kids don't like loud noises.  Some kids have seizures when they see flashing lights.  Some kids are allergic to bees. And peanut butter.  If a teacher needs to carry an epipen in the event of an evacuation, don't assume that she knows.  Write it down, make copies, and give it to anyone and everyone, and talk with them about what they can expect.  If you're a parent of a special needs child, put your information in an IEP, as in, "This is the IEP for when you have a fire drill", or "this is the plan to follow when this child has a seizure".  People do better in emergencies if they've rehearsed a scenario beforehand, so make sure that your child's school has all the information they need to support your kid should there be a crisis.

5. Show some respect.  Follow the rules.  If there's rules for the pick up line, follow them.  If there's rules about showing an ID to pick up your child, bring it.  Yeah, it is a pain. Sometimes it is darn inconvenient, especially if you're in a hurry and you wore those shoes that pinch.  Bite the bullet and do what you've been asked.  Rules are there for a reason, and that reason is usually safety.  In addition, by following the rules, you're a parent who is modeling appropriate behavior to your child.  Kids will do as you do, not as you say.  Rule breakers, people who don't believe that rules apply to them, tend to end up incarcerated, and no parent wants that.

School safety is everyone's responsibility, so be a proactive parent and head over to your child's school.  You won't be sorry that you did, unless you accidentally get volunteered to be chaperone on the fifth grade field trip! 

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