As a college professor, I don’t often have the chance to get to know my students as much as their elementary school teachers did, because I don’t see them every day and have fewer opportunities for interaction with them as individuals. But I know that I would be heartbroken if anything happened to any one of them. We’ve all had far too many opportunities in recent years to reflect on the unique role that schools play in our society as open and accessible community resources-and the great damage that is done to our society when that role is violated.
This week, educators from nursery school to college are rethinking many of the philosophies, procedures, and plans in place at their schools, as are parents, because as a society we must protect the rights of all students and teachers to learn in a safe and welcoming environment.
The following list of websites contains reliable and useful information for educators and school administrators of all levels on how to plan for and respond in times of emergency. Though much of this information is focused on college campuses, I believe that teachers at every level of education can find use for it.
- Campus Safety magazine’s online component is probably the most comprehensive website devoted to securing not just schools, but also hospitals and other institutions that serve potentially vulnerable populations. It provides information on how students can stay safe on and off campus; ways for administrators to deal with flash mobs, protests, and other spontaneous campus events; current federal, state, and regional regulations; even how to deal with a power failure that can create dangerous circumstances on a campus. There are also many opinion pieces on issues such as guns on campus, including one on the recent decision to allow guns in special dorms at the University of Colorado, which I wrote about a few months ago.
- SAFER is the blog of Students Active for Ending Rape, which began at Columbia University in 2000. It is dedicated to educating college students about the threats of sexual assault that exist on campuses themselves, how to protect oneself, and “fights sexual violence and rape culture by empowering student-led campaigns to reform college sexual assault policies.” When I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, I worked in a similar group, and it was surprising how many college students falsely believe that the campus is always safe. This blog should be read by anyone who is interested in educating students about self-defense, legal issues, and awareness.
- Homeroom is the U.S. Department of Education’s official blog and covers a variety of topics, including those related to safety at schools across America. It includes links to official reports and statistics, including information on campus threat assessment and advice from the FBI.
- Parents and Colleges.com’s blog includes frequent posts on campus safety issues, including advice on how students can be safe at big city universities, in residence halls, and as they walk on campus.
- School Safety News is a blog published by Safeplans, LLC, a risk-management company that specializes in helping governments and organizations conduct risk assessment and develop emergency plans. This is a commercial blog focused on selling the company’s products, but their experience working for the Department of Homeland Security to develop programs for schools in Pennsylvania means that it offers a unique perspective. An additional benefit of the site is its information on the best ways to prepare for weather emergencies.
- Safe Havens International is a nonprofit organization that provides safety training for schools across the globe; they write that, “one of our main goals is to provide you with free resources and information that you can use immediately to make your schools or place of worship safer.” The site offers two blogs and free resources, including instructions on how to conduct safety assessments, an evaluation checklist, and other suggestions for educators on how to make their classrooms and schools safer.
- Safe Schools is a blog that recognizes that safety issues include more than just physical safety or “stranger danger” and as a result addresses a number of concerns, including bullying prevention, how to establish efficient school communication procedures, and crisis management, which can include a number of different factors depending on the nature of the crisis.
It’s also a good idea to consult individual school websites; every college has emergency plans in place that students, parents, faculty and staff should be familiar with. Make sure to enroll in the school’s emergency notification plan, so that you are aware of any issues as quickly as possible.
Educators like me, and every other teacher I know, chose this field because we care about people: about their growth, development, and well-being. It is therefore natural that rage and despair can overwhelm us in the aftermath of the agonizing loss of 20 beautiful children and their dedicated caretakers in Newtown, Connecticut, which is a town only miles from where I grew up and one that I know well.
We know that as educators we must not only teach our students, but also safeguard them as much as we can. When we do so, we model ourselves after the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary school, who selflessly threw themselves in harm’s way for their students. When we protect the students in our classrooms, no matter what level we teach, we honor their memory and the memory of their students.