• IDRA Newsletter • November- December 1997

Placing school safety high on the educational agenda. Such a priority involves making a personal and community commitment toward creating a safe, welcoming, respectful, gun-free and drug-free school.

Involving parents and citizens. No plan can succeed without the participation of parents and citizens in the community. Planners must make certain to bring these participants to the table often to shape strategies and programs together. Most people dislike having things “done to them.” They enjoy being a part of planning, carrying out and evaluating programs in which they have invested concern and time. Those affected by safe school plans should be involved throughout the entire process.

Building and developing the team. Making schools safe is a joint responsibility, requiring a broad-based team and a working attitude emphasizing collaboration and cooperation. Team members should include educators, parents, students, law enforcers, community and business leaders, probation and court representatives, social service and health care providers, and other youth-serving professionals.

Conducting the school site assessment. Team members should determine the specific issues and concerns that the local community believes are most important. This step begins the process of developing a meaningful safe school plan that will foster an increased level of community commitment.

Reviewing the law. The law is at the heart of every major school safety issue today. Laws are intended to articulate the reasonable standards that define the delicate balance between student rights and student responsibilities. The law proclaims what must be done, implies what should be done and establishes limits for what may be done. The law constitutes a code of professional expectations for school administrators and youth-serving professionals. As planning begins, school and community leaders should consult with the school district’s attorneys to ensure that legal issues are appropriately addressed. Constitutional issues, as well as other concerns ranging from adequate liability insurance to the effective screening of volunteers, may arise with the implementation of a comprehensive violence prevention program.

Creating a “safe school plan.” This is an action plan that not only includes the substance of what is necessary to accomplish certain goals but also identifies the processes by which those goals will be achieved, including short-term objectives and long-term systemic changes. It is most important for team members to understand that they can make a positive difference in the quality of life for themselves, their community and the children they serve.

Formulating a contingency plan. Having a backup plan for handling emergencies and crises simply makes good sense. Such foresight can prevent a crisis and preclude successive crises while creating an effective mechanism for managing school problems.

Creating an educational climate. Team members should evaluate the current education atmosphere and propose modifications that will transform it into a safe, vibrant learning environment in which students and teachers respect each other.

Searching for ways to serve students and ways students can serve. Young people should always be included as part of the solution to the problems associated with juvenile delinquency. Actively engaging students in school and community projects and activities creates a level of ownership that supports the success of every child.

Getting the message out, communicating. Working with the media may be one of the most successful strategies for building awareness of both the issues involved and the progress being made. With simple newsletters, schools can share success stories and break down barriers with other districts and schools.

Evaluating progress. It is important to monitor activities, measure impact and evaluate how the plan is working. A safe school plan should be modified and improved whenever necessary.

Excerpted from: National Center for Education Statistics. “Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide.” U.S. Department of Education. Internet posting (September 1996).

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]