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Professional Opinion

School Safety is an Inside Job

How to get your students involved early in the school year.

The assistant principal checked the Concerned Person's Report Box (CPR Box), as is done daily at regular intervals, and found a note from a student indicating there was to be a fight between rival student groups at lunch in the cafeteria. The "conspiracy of silence," wherein students do not tell adults about homicidal and suicidal statements so prevalent among our youth, was not a factor. The school was able to alert security thanks to the efforts of the student. The increased staff presence in the dining commons resulted in a safe and routine lunch.

How does a school principal create a school climate where students see their role in school safety as important and are likely to alert adults to potentially dangerous situations? The U.S. Secret Service studied school violence and found that the majority of perpetrators had told other students of their violent plans. The literature indicates that the conspiracy of silence occurs for these reasons:

- Fear of retaliation from peers

- Disbelief that a violent incident could really happen

- Prior conditioning toward silence

- Lack of trust in adults to do the right thing.

These attitudes are very prevalent and will not change overnight, but through hard work and student involvement, school safety can be increased. The following steps were taken in one school to build trust between students and adults, increasing their sense of belonging in their school community.

The increased staff presence in the dining commons resulted in a safe and routine lunch.

- Advisors in the first week of school stressed the important role that students have in school safety and discussed methods of seeking adult help.

-Each advisor elected a safety representative to meet with the principal monthly. The elected students became members of the School Safety Task Force and designed a T-shirt with a school safety slogan selected by the student body.

- At least once a week advisory discussions focused on school safety issues.

- A format was created for priority safety issues to be immediately shared with the principal through "hot mail" when the issue could not wait for a scheduled School Safety Task Force meeting.

- The School Safety Task Force recommended that CPR Boxes be placed in several hallways and monitored constantly by school administrators.

- After school had been in session for a few weeks, all students were surveyed in advisories about school safety concerns and were asked to highlight areas on the school floor plan where they felt unsafe both before and after school.

- A safety pledge requiring student and parent signatures was developed that indicates the role students have in school safety and the importance of notifying adults if violence is threatened or if they have knowledge of a weapon on campus.

- Parents were invited to an evening presentation on school safety and were encouraged to share their own safety ideas. Students were offered an incentive if one or more of their parents attended. For parents who attended, their children received a "get out of tardy sweep free" pass. Attendance at the parent session was high, and many important issues were discussed.

School safety is of paramount importance to administrators, but it needs to include a commitment from students. It is not enough for administrators and teachers to meet regularly to improve school safety. There must be planned activities for students that create a sense of belonging and responsibility for safety at school.

Scott Poland is chair of the National Emergency Assistance Team for the National Association of School Psychologists and a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University. Note: Scott Poland is a presenter in the EduComm Leadership Series one-day seminar "New Paths to School Safety and Security" in Framingham, Mass., October 2 and in Tarrytown, N.Y.,

October 3. Online registration opens July 16 ( Donna Poland is the director of the Upper University School at Nova Southeastern University.