What Parents Need to Know About Private School Safety Plans K-12 schools

Yet, while attention has focused on public schools, private schools have their share of challenges to ensure the safety of students in the event of disasters, shootings or other violent incident on the grounds of the city. ‘school.

Maria Sommerville, who coordinates the Harley School Safety Plan in New York City, says private school safety plans do not differ significantly from public schools, but noted that the smaller size of most private schools can be helpful in alleviating potential problems.

“Independent schools are usually small, tight-knit communities,” she says. “Faculty and staff need to know their community well enough to know when someone is in crisis, which helps reduce security concerns. “

Of course, private schools are not without risk of violence, although the available evidence suggests that it is rarer than in public schools.

A 2019 report by the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, called NTAC, assessed 41 incidents from 2008 to 2017 in which a recent or current student used a weapon to cause targeted violence (resulting in injury or death) on school property. Two of the cases involved private schools, according to a spokesperson for the Secret Service. A similar study by NTAC in 2021 looked at 67 cases in which schools were able to avoid a planned attack. Only one of the cases was in a private school.

Much like public schools, private schools are regulated primarily by state and local governments, and private school safety rules vary by region. Despite different laws, experts say best practices in school safety and violence prevention are largely the same for public and private institutions.

“Whether a school is public or private, school communities should follow the framework outlined in the guide from the US Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center,” NTAC chief Lina Alathari said in a statement.

Best practices for preventing violence in schools

The NTAC guide, titled Improving School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model, was updated in 2018 and states that it is intended to help schools “identify students of concern. , assess their risk of engaging in violence or other harmful activities and identify intervention strategies to manage this risk.

The guide includes best practices for schools of all types:

  • Create a threat assessment team that includes faculty, staff, administrators, coaches, and others to oversee a threat assessment process.
  • Define behaviors that should trigger immediate action, such as threats, violence, or guns on campus.
  • Establish a system for students, parents, teachers and others to anonymously report concerns about potential threats. “Make sure it… is monitored by staff who will follow up on all reports,” the guide says.
  • Determine a threshold for which intervention by the police must be requested.
  • Establish threat assessment procedures that will guide the investigation of the severity of a threat. This includes establishing whether a student has communicated their plans; has access to weapons; researched attack plans or tactics; and whether there are any emotional factors and motivations that might be relevant.
  • Develop risk management options that schools will adopt after the threat assessment is complete.
  • Promote a safe school climate that encourages intervention in student conflict and / or bullying and allows students to communicate their concerns.
  • Provide training to all school staff, students, parents and law enforcement.

Jay Brotman, an architect who helped design the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut after a gunman killed 20 children and six staff in 2012, said school security plans should include controlling access to the school building, especially during peak periods like pick-up and drop-off.

Brotman also says that school buildings should be designed to promote both safety and positive feelings and emotions among students and faculty.

“Instead of having solid walls everywhere, you need more glass – an opening of spaces and doors,” he says. “Transparency, high visibility, good lighting, daylight – all of these increase the feeling of well-being and community, as well as security. “

How private school safety plans differ from public plans

Myra McGovern, spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Schools, said variations in school safety plans relate less to whether the institution is public or private and more to the number of students and faculty and the type of establishment in which they are housed.

Yet, she says, there are some differences between public and private schools when it comes to school safety.

“There are certain barriers that public schools face when implementing safety measures, such as having to deal with multiple layers of bureaucracy to secure funding, which independent schools are less likely to overcome,” she said. . “But there are also complexities that independent schools face that public schools may be less likely to handle, such as working with child safety details of prominent politicians in other countries.”

McGovern also noted that private boarding schools have additional challenges as “they have to consider the safety of students and teachers where they live as well as where they go to school.” For example, she noted that during the California wildfires, a boarding school was forced to evacuate and find alternative housing for all of its students and dozens of horses in its equestrian program, while also finding a safe space to continue the course.

While the national conversation on school safety has focused on school shootings in recent years, it’s also important to have plans in place for natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides risk assessment tools and guidelines for schools to use when developing plans.

Questions to ask

Whether it’s evaluating your existing school or choosing a new one, Sommerville says there are a few questions about safe school policies parents should ask:

  • Does the school have a safety plan?
  • How many hours of school counseling does the school offer each week?
  • How does the school mitigate bullying?
  • Do you know your students and families well?

“Students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” she says. “Parents should expect teachers and staff to know their students by name. “
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