By Jennifer Wohlleb
When it comes to making schools safe, experts say there is no such thing as being too prepared – but it is possible to get tunnel vision and focus too much on the wrong things.
That was the message of the president and vice president of the Kentucky Association of School Resource Officers, when asked what types of questions school board members should ask about school safety in their district.
“We teach a class on public safety at our technology school and in there I teach threat assessments – I call it intro to homeland security,” said Officer Sam Wade, the school resource officer at West Jessamine High School and vice president of KYASRO. “We look at possible threats vs. our probable threats. We’re taking an all-hazards approach, everything from A to Z, from aliens to zombies. And while all that is possible, let’s look at all the probable things in our area. Here in our spot in Kentucky, for example, we have crazy weather, so that’s something we have to prepare for.”
Both Wade and KYASRO President Deputy Glenn Woodard, with Warren County Schools, said school leaders should look at their surroundings and history and see what poses hazards.
“If you’ve got a train track running close to your building, if you’re on a major thoroughfare you’ve got maybe tractor-trailers going by carrying some kind of hazardous material,” Woodard said. “Natural disasters (like tornados), those possibilities are much greater than the probability of a shooter coming into your schools.”
And while active shooter scenarios are what come to mind when discussing school safety, both Woodard and Wade cautioned against making that the entire focus.
“Is lighting adequate?” Woodard asked about creating a secure campus. “Do we have too many trees around? I know we want to make our schools inviting and not make them look like a prison yard, and all that’s good, but sometimes we create a safety issue when we let trees and shrubs grow and be taller than a person and too close to the building. It creates dark spaces where you can’t see, or the camera can’t pick up because a tree is blocking it.”
Woodard said bus safety is another area school board members should ask about.
“How can we make our transportation systems a harder target than they are right now?” he asked. “Right now our bus system is the softest target that we’ve got. National trends indicate that there will be more bus incidents in the future than there will be in schools because we’ve put our focus on things like active shooter and made our schools harder targets.”
Wade encouraged school board members not to overlook the seemingly mundane aspects of keeping students safe.
“A response issue that I was not made aware of until recently, I was under the impression that all teachers had some kind of basic training in first aid and CPR,” he said. “I learned the hard way doing a site survey here that it’s not a requirement for teachers to have first aid and CPR training.”
Wade said his school, like so many others, has students with serious medical conditions who need to be monitored.
“On top of that, you’ve got the kid who’s going to have the accident, who’s going to fall and break something in gym,” he said. “Are your teachers prepared to deal with the basic medical stuff … do your teachers have that basic knowledge? Coaches and nurses are required to have that training, but I think you’re missing out if you don’t have frontline teachers involved in at least basic first aid.”
And understanding the school culture is critical to safety, they said.
“What are the greatest causes of violence in our schools,” Woodard said board should ask. “Is it bullying, is it the demographics that we serve, do we have a problem with gangs? Because a lot of times as a school we don’t want to identify ourselves or associate ourselves with having those things because it looks like we’ve lost control of our schools when those things exist.”
— Safe Schools Week is Oct. 20-26. Go to the Kentucky Center for School Safety’s website.