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CSSI Research on the Impact of Emergency Preparedness on School Safety

Joshua Hendrix, Research Scientist, RTI International; Mario Scalora, Director, Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Suyapa Silva, Program Director for School Based Research, RTI International

Three NIJ-funded researchers help define school safety and discuss why it's important for school officials and law enforcement to have a discussion about school safety plans, the main takeaways are based on the research, and the importance for increased collaboration.

SUYAPA SILVA: School safety is about teachers, students, faculty feeling safe from harassment, bullying, drug use, and other forms of violence. And it has been linked to better outcomes for students in schools.

JOSH HENDRIX: I think, in a general sense, school safety is the sum of all activities by federal and state agencies, school and district staff, local law enforcement, and many other stakeholders, to create and maintain a positive learning space for youth. Those activities, taken together, reduce, minimize bullying, violence, and other kinds of disruptive behavior that can undermine a productive learning environment.

MARIO SCALORA: Schools have to educate young people, and we want schools to be very welcoming, open, safe environments. And to us, safety means we maintain the value of an open, accepting environment, and we don’t turn our schools into armed camps; that we want people to feel safe, but welcomed. And have the school look like a school.

JOSH HENDRIX: I would say it’s critical to have ongoing discussions about safety planning. This is a very complex area, with so many moving parts, that it really depends on people knowing what their plan says, knowing their roles and responsibilities and working together. We have to move away from the mindset that a safety plan is something you write and then put on a shelf. It has to be treated as a dynamic, living document that you’re always updating based on lessons learned from shootings around the country, or feedback you can get from your staff about just the readability or usability of the plan--even insights from students who tend to know a lot about unsafe activities that are happening on campus.

SUYAPA SILVA: School safety planning is something that all schools need to be doing. We need to be thinking about how to resolve the problems that are leading to this kind of an event. And so, because it’s so unpredictable, it can happen anywhere. And we’ve seen it in rural schools, urban schools, large, small, et cetera. All schools need to be prepared.

MARIO SCALORA: You know, having conversations about school safety planning is becoming more and more the norm, as we see these horrible incidents happening, almost on a weekly basis, in the news media when there is a school shooting or an averted school shooting. And while these incidents are still very rare, they are on the mind of educators, parents, and youth. And, frankly, violence is preventable. And when we bring people together, we can go a long way in maintaining safe schools while maintaining a very safe and positive school environment.

SUYAPA SILVA: I would hope that school administrators and law enforcement would realize that there are many resources available out there. They do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of guidelines. There’s lots of guidance from the states that they’re in. Also, there’s a lot of wisdom from schools that have gone through this. So there’s much to learn.

JOSH HENDRIX: We want all of our schools in the nation to have comprehensive safety plans that are customized, to the building level, that are easy to navigate but that have specific, non-generic instructions for specific types of staff, locations, and scenarios. We want to see consistency between training and the safety plan. We want all staff to have access to the safety plan, because there’s power in that knowledge.

MARIO SCALORA: I think another takeaway from this discussion is that even when resources are very tight, and they will always be very tight in smaller communities, is that when there is an effort made to create relationships---it does pan out into very positive outcomes for school safety.

JOSH HENDRIX: Yes. I’m a huge advocate of collaborations, especially for school safety. I don’t think anyone can or should claim that they’ve solved the issue of violence prevention in schools. The fact is, violence continues to happen, and that’s just more evidence that we have to build the knowledge base for what works. So I think more and more, we’re gonna see that this recognition that it takes a community of partnerships to create the most positive and productive schools possible.

MARIO SCALORA: Well, emergencies are always going to happen. And the reality is that schools and communities are bombarded with a range of needs all the time. And it is very easy to put off emergency operations planning, and just as importantly, other preventative aspects of violence prevention. It just reminds us when we need to have the conversations. And having the conversations earlier, and having conversations with multiple people who were involved, actually allows us better data to tell us where we actually are. Emergency operations planning is not just specific to one type of crisis or risk.That when we do it well, we are better suited to address the array of things we either anticipate or, frankly, can’t anticipate.

Date Created: June 8, 2020