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Inclusive School Safety Planning Tips | #schoolsaftey


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Preferred languages, accessibility, and multisensory emergency alerts must all be considered when making school safety plans.

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Inclusivity is the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for those who might otherwise be marginalized. An inclusive school safety plan accounts for everyone’s individual needs and abilities — including students and staff — when and if a school is faced with an emergency.

To make school safety more inclusive, leaders must consider various student and staff attributes, including preferred language and physical limitations.

We recently spoke with Dr. Roderick Sams, a former educator and administrator of over twenty years and current chief development officer at CENTEGIX, about how schools and districts can create more inclusive school safety plans.

Removing Language Barriers During School Emergencies

All students and staff must be given access to emergency resources in their most comfortable language, including both planning and response resources and information (00:01).

“I think as districts and schools start thinking about their safety plans, they must also think about the languages that are included. What are the tools and resources that you’re leveraging in that safety response?” said Sams. “So are you thinking about how you’re going to broadcast messages? Is it either auditorily, avert, or through visuals? And so if those visuals have written words, you want to make sure that you’re including multiple languages in those messages. If you’re doing an auditory message, if it’s an intercom announcement, are you thinking about whether or not you’re doing it in multiple languages, especially languages that are dominant in your schools?”

Sams urges school leaders to ensure emergency notification and communication technologies they are considering have these capabilities.

“Ultimately, it comes down to schools making a conscientious effort to say, ‘I’m going to be inclusive. If I’m truly thinking about making sure that all students are protected, then all means all. And I have to be intentional in how we provide that level of support,’” he said. “As we start thinking about a student population that’s becoming more and more diverse by the day, we have to start thinking in more diverse ways. And so this is just one more example as to the level of intentionality that has to take place.”

Accessibility for Students with Physical Limitations

K-12 schools must consider students with physical limitations, such as those who use movement tools like walking aids and wheelchairs. Sams recommends schools make space at the school safety planning table for those who offer regular support for students with disabilities, such as aides (04:36).

“A lot of times when safety plans are developed or when safety protocols are developed, they’re developed with the majority of students in mind, and that kind of comes into play even when we start thinking about multiple languages, as we mentioned before,” said Sams. “But when we start thinking about physical limitations and physical challenges that many students have, we have to make sure that the individuals who are responsible for those students every day can articulate those things and bring those things to light.”

Some schools have leveraged parents as part of the process while others invite advocacy group representatives who work specifically with students with academic or physical challenges.

“As schools are being taxed greatly when it comes to the amount of resources they have, and in many cases, those resources are being challenged, they must be willing to look to partnerships, either with parents directly or parent organizations, or any other kind of third-party organization that provides support,” said Sams. “More and more of those things are starting to happen primarily because of need but also just making sure that more people who are advocates are part of the process.”

Once inclusive school safety plans are in place, those plans must be tested regularly.

“Make sure whatever plans are in place, those things are practiced constantly and you actually do them in a real-world situation so that if you have to evacuate those students or if you have to provide additional support in the classroom to make sure those students are protected, that you actually practice those things in the most real example as possible,” said Sams. “Practice reevaluating and evaluating your protocols and then if there are challenges, make the right adaptations. Do you have to change a route that those students will be evacuated or do you have to adjust the amount of resource that is provided to that classroom in the case of an emergency?”

Although there are protections in place from discrimination against people with disabilities, every student’s safety should be top of mind for school leaders regardless of requirements.

Audio/Visual Alerts for Sight- and Hearing-Impaired Students

Multiple modalities for emergency alerts have long been a leading practice. It increases the likelihood of an alert being seen and allows for the strengths of one technology to compensate for the weaknesses of others. It also benefits those who might be sight- or hearing-impaired (08:56).

“Anytime there’s a way to broadcast a visual messaging that could be done through some type of desktop takeover of your network devices — your laptops, your desktops, your interactive whiteboards — a message popping up saying, ‘Hey, here’s what’s happening, and here are your directions’ — are pretty key in making sure that individuals who have visual capabilities see them,” said Sams. “But not every student, faculty, or staff member has visual capabilities, so they may need to have things auditorily announced.”

Sams also notes multisensor notifications are critical as today’s students have many distractions.

“Sometimes kids have headphones on in the school and they’re in a computer lab or they’re walking down the hall. They may not hear the intercom announcement or visually their eyesight may not be on that particular area where that lighted strobe or lighted visual is being seen because it may be in the restroom and it may not have that capability there,” he said. “So multisensory notification is a key component to notification, making sure that everyone in that school understands that something is happening.”

These notifications should also be broadcast in multiple languages to accommodate ESL students.

Don’t Lose Sight of Campus Culture in Search for Campus Security

Inclusivity in school safety planning is critical but what’s equally important — if not more — is inclusivity in everyday campus life. In today’s world, a campus is often considered “safer” if it practices active shooter drills or regularly prepares for extreme instances of violence. In actuality, a medical emergency or a student in a non-violent mental health crisis is far more likely to occur. The push to make a campus physically safer often leads to oversight of a positive campus culture (16:15).

“When I think of my practitioner days, my principal days, did I think about weapons? Yes, I did. Did I plan accordingly? Absolutely. But what drove my actions and most of the things that we considered to be best practices were the day-to-day things that would create the kind of culture and climate in my school to be seen as positive,” said Sams. “What could we do to make folks feel good about coming to school every day, make teachers and faculty and staff members feel good about coming to work every day?”

Having an inclusive campus that listens to student and staff voices and accepts and accommodates differences has proven to reduce violence, making it easier for students to learn and teachers to teach.

“The amount of time that’s spent on instruction is increased when you can get to a situation and deal with it quicker so that they can be resolved and then the process can move forward,” Sams said. “You’re actually providing a very solid approach to improving the academic environment, the learning environment the teaching environment, by making your environment safer.”

The full interview transcript is below and includes subhead descriptions to help break up the discussion into easily digestible parts.

Watch the full interview here or listen on the go on Apple or Spotify.

 


Preferred Languages in School Safety Planning

Amy Rock (00:01): I’m here today with Dr. Roderick Sams, who is a former educator and administrator of over 20 years, and we’ll be discussing various ways K-12 schools can create a more inclusive school safety plan. We know school safety plans should be inclusive of all students and staff, but oftentimes this just isn’t the case. Perhaps sometimes it’s intentional due to laziness, not wanting to adapt these plans to support those who may have different needs. But I think, at least I hope, a lot of the time, it’s due to the fact that a school or district might not have considered a particular scenario or incident where something in their plan wouldn’t be helpful or even possible for someone in their student body or staff to do so.

That being said, over your career, you’ve been able to garner several ways schools can create a more inclusive school safety plan, the first being in regard to preferred languages. How can schools ensure students whose first language is not English have access to emergency resources and information?

Dr. Roderick Sams (00:58): Well, obviously, great question. I think as we start thinking about students who have differing needs, obviously language barriers can be a challenge, especially in certain parts of our country, but nationally, because of course, we’re getting young people from all over coming to our schools. I think as districts and schools start thinking about their safety plans, they must also think about the languages that are included, as you mentioned in your question. What are the tools and resources that you’re leveraging in that safety response? So are you thinking about how you’re going to broadcast messages? Is it either auditorily, avert, or through visuals? And so if those visuals have written words, you want to make sure that you’re including multiple languages in those messages. If you’re doing an auditory message, if it’s an intercom announcement, are you thinking about whether or not you’re doing it in multiple languages, especially languages that are dominant in your schools?

And so schools have those capabilities in a lot of ways. There are a lot of resources that are out there that allow you to make those kinds of adaptations if necessary. But I think ultimately it comes down to schools making a conscientious effort, just like with all of these things to say, ‘I’m going to be inclusive. If I’m truly thinking about making sure that all students are protected, then all means all. And I have to be intentional in how we provide that level of support.’ So looking at resources that are out there that allow for translations or looking at tools that already provide that capability are key in an emergency world and a safety world. And there are tools out there that do that.

So as the selection process occurs, that may be something that comes to the top of mind versus an afterthought. It has to be something that is truly a part of the vetting process for a lot of these tools and resources that districts may invest in. And so again, I go back to my practitioner world when we say the word all, we have to truly mean the word all. And that’s kind of the way I would want districts, schools, and leaders to approach this work.

Amy Rock (03:27): My sister-in-law is a teacher at the high school in my town, and she said this year, more than any year, she has the most amount of students that don’t speak any amount of English. And so it’s a challenge for teachers in the classroom as well, but you hope that leadership is providing teachers and those students with the resources that they need to succeed. But I was talking to her about it, and it’s amazing. The school year started in September and it’s February — kids are just so smart and pick up on the language being in the classroom, and so kids are really able to adapt. But it needs to include all.

Dr. Roderick Sams (04:07): Well, it is great that individualized situations can occur, but it needs to be truly broadened to make sure that everyone has equal access and equal opportunity. And so as we start thinking about a student population that’s becoming more and more diverse by the day, we have to start thinking in more diverse ways. And so this is just one more example as to the level of intentionality that has to take place.

Accessibility in School Safety Planning

Amy Rock (04:36): You said accessibility, which brings me to my next question — accessibility in the sense of physical accessibility, which is huge since there are a lot of rules and regulations that govern this area, like the Americans with Disabilities Act. How do you recommend schools make students and staff with mobility limitations feel safe and empowered during an emergency?

Dr. Roderick Sams (04:58): A couple of things I think about, right? So as plans are developed — and this is something that I think is a broad example that may cover several questions that you may ask — you have to make sure that those individuals who are responsible for those students have a seat at the table and they’re there to discuss the needs of those students. A lot of times when safety plans are developed or when safety protocols are developed, they’re developed with the majority of students in mind, and that has kind of comes into play even when we start thinking about multiple languages, as we mentioned before, but when we start thinking about physical limitations and physical challenges that many of our students have, we have to make sure that the individuals who are responsible for those students every day can articulate those things and bring those things to light.

That’s number one. Number two, continuing to make sure that whatever plans are in place, those things are practiced constantly and you do them in a real-world situation so that if you have to evacuate those students or if you have to provide additional support in the classroom to make sure that those students are protected, that you practice those things in the most real example as possible because you don’t want to assume that the classroom environment is going to just be enough to be able to deal with that situation or the personnel in that classroom is just going to be enough to deal with that situation. So practice looking at your planning, making sure that individuals who have the expertise, and the knowledge as it relates to making sure that those young people and the adults who are responsible for them can be protected in a situation.

So practice reevaluating and evaluating constantly your protocols, practicing them in real-time. And then if there are challenges, making the right adaptations, making the right changes — do you have to change a route that those students will be evacuated if necessary, or do you have to adjust the amount of resource that is provided to that classroom in the case of an emergency? So always being willing to make those adaptations and those recommendations of resources as you’re practicing and as you’re monitoring your actual plan.

School Safety Advocates for Underrepresented Students

Amy Rock (07:32): Now, sometimes schools, as you know, are understaffed and don’t have enough aides or support staff to give students with disabilities the support they need. Have you seen schools over the years bring in parents of these students to look at spaces and note things that might be a challenge for their child? Not necessarily an emergency, just in every day getting about school? Because sometimes I think that isn’t top of mind for the students themselves. And again, not every kid has a great parent advocate, but have you ever seen schools do that?

Dr. Roderick Sams (08:06): I have. I’ve seen schools leverage parents as a part of the process. There are a lot of advocacy groups out there that work specifically with students that have either academic or physical challenges, and they provide support to schools, and they leverage those organizations as well. So again, as schools are being taxed greatly when it comes to the amount of resources they have, and in many cases those resources are being challenged, being willing to look at partnerships either with parents directly or parent organizations, or any other third party organizations that provide support. More and more of those things are starting to happen primarily because of need, but also just making sure that more people who are advocates are a part of the process.

Inclusive Emergency Alerts

Amy Rock (08:56): And now, we mentioned audio and visual alerts as it relates to ESL students, but audio and visual alerts and multi-sensory considerations — why are those important and what are some best practices schools should follow to ensure alerts are seen or heard or even understood by everyone in a school community?

Dr. Roderick Sams (09:15): Great question. Multiple modalities are key as relates to making sure that everyone knows that something is happening, especially when everyone needs to know that something is happening. And so having some type of visual that can alert you to some emergency, sometimes those alerts can be multicolored depending upon the type of emergency. If it’s a weather emergency it’s maybe one color, if it’s a full-scale lockdown or some type of closed approach to protecting students, faculty, and staff, that may be another color. So the multicolored piece and understanding what those colors mean and reviewing those color protocols are key in making sure that folks know what to do when a situation occurs.

Also, anytime there’s a way to broadcast a visual messaging that could be done through some type of desktop takeover of your network devices, your laptops, your desktops, your interactive whiteboards, a message popping up saying, “Hey, here’s what’s happening, and here are your directions” are pretty key in making sure that individuals who have visual capabilities see them. But also, not every student, faculty, or staff member has visual capabilities, so they may need to have things auditorily announced.

Many systems will do an integration of an intercom system, for example. And so that way an intercom message can be broadcast and that auditory message can be heard, and that’s for those physical limitations that young people may have or that adults may have. But honestly, in many cases, there are some times when kids have headphones on in school and they’re in a computer lab or they’re walking down the hall. They may not hear the intercom announcement or visually they may have, their eyesight may not be on that particular area where that lighted strobe or lighted visual is being seen because it may be in the restroom, it may not have that capability there. So multisensory notification is a key component to notification, making sure that everyone in that school understands that something is happening. And here are the procedures that we probably have already practiced because we do drills, we’ve practiced these things, but now we have to put that practice into action. And so that’s that trigger that everyone now knows, okay, now that we know what the situation is, now we have to respond accordingly to help make sure everybody’s safe.

Amy Rock (12:15):
Multiple means of conveying emergency information is already a best practice. So not only would you be following a best practice, but you’re also accommodating students with various impairments.

Dr. Roderick Sams (12:27): Absolutely. And again, we think through those pieces intentionally for those who are in the business of helping schools and districts develop plans that are going to encompass the best outcome possible. And ultimately the best outcome possible is making sure that we keep as many people, if not everyone, as safe as possible in any kind of situation.

Collecting Data After School Safety Incidents

Amy Rock (12:55): As anyone who works in school safety knows, collecting incident data is crucial, like we were saying, to improving emergency response and adapting your school safety plans. What type of data should a district be collecting following an incident to ensure inclusive school safety planning?

Dr. Roderick Sams (13:12): Well, I think as I think about data in my previous life, being a school administrator, a school principal, data drove almost every decision I made. And I’m pretty sure that that’s the same, for everyone from superintendents all the way down, on how they inform their practices and making sure that whatever protocols or procedures or activities that are in place, that they’re actually performing as described. When you think about data, you want to make sure that you capture key pieces that are going to drive your plans, your adjustments, resource allocation, et cetera. One, do we know where a lot of these incidents are taking place? That could be areas of your school. It could be the types of school — elementary, middle or high. It could be locations. If you have the ability to have location data, and you can look at that data according to certain school types, et cetera, all that’s important.

You also want to know the types of emergencies. Is it a medical emergency? Is it a school-based emergency? It could be a classroom-type emergency. Is it a disciplinary issue? Is it an issue that is a mass notification, school lockdown type of issue? So capturing data on those things is key. You also want to be able to capture data on things that you actually can prevent. So being able to de-escalate a situation because you actually got to an emergency before it became a full-scale emergency, especially in some of the more localized ones, like schools dealing with students engaging in fights and things of that nature. If you can proactively identify before that fight actually occurs that someone is getting to that situation and resolving it before that action takes place, that’s a piece of data that you can then point to and say, wow, we are preventing situations based on our protocols, based on our safety plan, based upon how we are providing support for our school.

And that’s something that our community should know, that our stakeholders should know. Our boards, parents should want to know, would want to know that, hey, the things that my child’s school or my child’s district have invested in are making a difference in keeping the school safer because we could point to the information. So when I think about how those things can then drive decisions, it helps to know, did we make the right investments? Is that return on investment real? Are we addressing the critical areas? Do we have the right resources there? Do we have enough resources there? Do we need to make changes? So these are the kinds of data points that can drive some of those actions and I think can improve situations.

Amy Rock (16:15): I think people focus so much more on severe violence when most of the time it’s disciplinary or medical. And so I think maybe schools might be considering school safety planning in an inclusive way for really serious incidents and not focusing so much on the more likely to happen types.

Dr. Roderick Sams (16:39): That’s a great point. And when I think about my practitioner days, my principal days — did I think about weapons in my schools? Yes, I did. Did I plan accordingly? Absolutely. But what drove most of my actions and most of the things that we considered to be best practices were the day-to-day things that would create the kind of culture and climate in my school to be seen as positive. So what could we do to make folks feel good about coming to school every day, make kids feel good about coming to school every day, make teachers and faculty and staff members feel good about coming to work every day? It’s the day-to-day, things that continue to happen and will happen in every school across the country. And so planning to support a safer environment for those things are the things that every school is going to have to come to grips with if they want to have the kind of inclusive environment that makes education an easier process for everyone than for those in those situations versus a challenge. So those day-to-day things are the ones that are going to, that should, I should say, command everyone’s attention.

Amy Rock (18:07): Right. You mentioned when you were in leadership roles in schools, that you did think about the violent incidents, but having an inclusive campus has been shown to reduce violence, so you’re not only providing students with the resources they need to help them be successful, but it’s improving the overall culture. It’s all connected.

Dr. Roderick Sams (18:29): Yeah, it is not siloed. I always like to think of safer schools or better schools. So if you are working very hard to make your environment safer, then you’ve done a lot in school improvement. You make it easier for teachers to teach you, and make it easier for students to learn. The amount of time that’s spent on instruction is increased when you can get to situations and deal with them, whether proactively and prevent them or even when they occur, to deal with them quicker so that they can be resolved and then the process can move forward. You’re providing a very solid approach to improving the academic environment, the learning environment, and the teaching environment, by making your environment safer.

Final Note

Amy Rock (19:20): Now, earlier in our discussion, you mentioned resources. Can you point to any helpful resources schools can refer to either help them understand the importance of inclusivity and school safety planning, or where they can start to match their plans against to see where they need to make changes?

Dr. Roderick Sams (19:41): Honestly, I think the primary thing that school districts should consider when they’re thinking about their safety planning is making sure that there’s representation across the board as those plans are developed. So when you’re thinking about students with disabilities, make sure that you have individuals who work with those students every day involved in that process to make sure that that voice is heard and that voice contributes to how the plan is developed.

The same thing with academics. People don’t think about the role that safety plays in academics, but of course, if you’re trying to think about how now we’re trying to increase the viability of how teachers perform and how students perform, then that’s the academic component. But safety plays a huge role in that. So make sure that you have representation at the table. Yes, our safety personnel will probably drive a lot of the conversation, but that shouldn’t be done in isolation. It should be done in collaboration with a lot of groups who ultimately should have a voice and should be allowed to express how these things will play out. And making sure that, as I said earlier in the conversation, all students in all situations are considered as we develop these plans.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.





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