Educational institutions should be safe places for teaching and learning, free from crime and violence. Sadly, Education Week has documented a history of school shootings and violence resulting in death or injury in the past years. Based on Education Week's report, there have been 66 people killed and 202 people injured in school shootings since 2018.
School shootings are not the only crime occurring in educational institutions. Different school-based crimes and threats plague students, faculty, and school workers.
General statistics on student crime, both fatal and non-fatal, show that such occurrences run rampant in schools. The Bureau of Justice reported that at least 827,000 non-fatal crimes such as bullying, fights, sexual assaults, possession of weapons, and use of illegal substances happened at schools in 2017. And it did not stop. Educator’s School Safety Network reported 374 more incidents of violence occurring from 2018 to 2019.
These statistics influence policymakers and school authorities to become more inclined to craft better and more effective solutions to reduce violence and crime in schools.
Major School Safety and Security Issues
School safety and security problems affect students, faculty, administrators, and parents alike. They are anxious about the different threats and dangers, mainly involving violence and harmful acts. These include victimization, bullying, fighting and assault, sexual attacks, theft, drugs, possession of deadly weapons, and the like.
But the irony in these issues is that the biggest threat to school safety and security is its absence or insufficiency. Common security problems are:
● Poorly implemented emergency and prevention plans
● Weak evacuation mechanisms
● Obsolete security systems
● Insufficient security devices installed in schools
● Lack of understanding of potential security threats
● The unclear groundwork for addressing pervasive problems
With a foundation of safety and security, schools and universities can be still secure places where the next generation can safely grow and learn.
Importance of School Safety and Security Systems
Providing a safe school environment goes beyond preparing for the worst-case scenarios. Exceptional school security systems build stronger relationships with all school community members. For most members, the security and safety of students are the top priority. Following are reasons why school security is essential.
Promotes Healthy Learning Environments
Strict school security and safety policies reassure everyone that school is far from danger. Parents will have peace of mind and confidence that their children are safe. On the other hand, students become less distracted at school and are more likely to focus on their studies when they feel safe and secure. Faculty members feel less pressured for the well-being of students, being aware that they are teaching in a safe environment.
Maintains a High Level of Protection
With physical security in place, the school facilities, assets, and, more importantly, the people, are safe and secure. Security guards can deter intruders who can harm or cause terror from entering the campus at entry and exit points. They also patrol the campus to do security checks and prevent student fights or bullying inside the school premises. At the same time, CCTV surveillance can monitor and record any untoward incidents happening in critical areas of the school.
Deters Potential Violence and Crime on Campus
Crime prevention strategies and stringent security measures reduce the risk and magnitude of violence or criminal activity on school premises. Security guards and CCTV cameras maintain safety around the campus and discourage students from misbehaving and doing unlawful acts.
Enables Quick Response to Emergencies
Proper implementation of emergency and prevention plans can help prevent chaos or panic when an accident or disaster happens. Schools must train security guards, faculty members, and students to know what to do in an emergency.
How to Make Schools a Safer Place
Keeping the students, faculty, and school employees safe and secure must be a priority for all educational institutions. With a staggering number of school-based crimes, violence, and untoward incidents reported every year, it is hard to ignore the need for a comprehensive school security system.
A system approach involves establishing reliable school physical security that covers crime and violence prevention, emergency response, and recovery.
Here are five essential steps for creating a safe learning environment.
1. Security Audits
An effective school security system starts with a thorough examination of vulnerabilities on your school premises. You need to review the current scenario and analyze what and where you should focus on your improvement efforts.
Identify problem areas: potential threats, environmental hazards, health risks, weather-related incidents, etc.
Assess your school’s existing infrastructure, security equipment and technology, and existing safety and security policies and procedures. Are they still working as intended, or are they already outdated? Check the school’s compliance with local health ordinances, building regulations, and fire codes.
2. Surveillance Systems and other Security Equipment
Security cameras, video surveillance, metal detectors, intercom systems, and alarms are some security measures that your school can adopt to keep everyone on the campus safe and sound.
Conducting a security audit gives you a better view of how and where to integrate this various equipment and technology into the school's overall security system.
Alarms, notifications, access cards, and detectors at entry points of protected areas help prevent intruders from breaking into a school to steal or commit any other crime. Cameras enable monitoring of activities around the school and serve as the first line of defense to respond to threats effectively and in a timely way.
You can link your school’s security system to your other alarm and emergency system to create an integrated security solution that allows the school to respond quickly to any emergency or threats on campus.
3. Security Guards at Entry and Exit Points
People often equate armed guards on school premises to sustaining the peace and order on campus and preventing accidents and troubles.
Having security guards man entry and exit points may be more dependable than digital access control barriers. But security guards working in concert with the surveillance systems at the main gates, doors, and entries of restricted areas work can provide a higher level of protection to the school.
4. School Safety and Security Policies and Procedures
Schools must craft policies and procedures to synchronize the functions of the technologies, equipment, and security personnel and support a coherent school security system.
Schools can respond to emergencies and threats promptly, disseminate information clearly, and efficiently coordinate with other community resources with properly implemented policies and procedures.
5. Training and Drills
Ensure that all your school staff is on board and well-informed about the security policies. Train them to use various security tools, follow guidelines, and respond to different emergencies. Conduct a regular schedule of mock safety drills involving teachers, students, and non-teaching staff to prepare the entire institution for possible violence and threats.
Convey to parents, external stakeholders, and community leaders how your school will relay the information during an emergency (phone call, text brigade, email, etc.).
Supporting Laws to Ensure School Safety
Your school policies must embody the laws for school safety to ensure the safety and well-being of students and help minimize potential violations. This article briefly explains some of these existing laws.
Anti-bullying Laws: All 50 states have anti-bullying laws to support the need for stricter school security. Every state has its way of imposing this law. A usual anti-bullying law requires a school to take action by reporting, documenting, and investigating bullying within a specific number of days. Some state laws list consequences for bullies and offer counseling services to both the victim and the bully.
First Amendment: The first amendment for school safety protects the rights of every public school student to speak and think freely. Public school students can speak, write articles, form groups, and even petition school officials on issues, depending on their age and type of expression.
Also, the law also protects teachers and school officials as it allows them to exercise their judgment and prohibit speech that substantially disrupts the school environment or violates the rights of others.
Establishment Clause: The Establishment Clause prohibits governments of all US states from sponsoring or establishing religion. It prohibits both religious cases of government abuse and political control of religion.
In the same way, the Establishment Law restricts schools from officially establishing a religion or favoring one religion over another. Public school officials and teachers must not require the students to participate in any religious exercise nor impose prayer or other spiritual practices on students.
CCTV Laws for Schools: State schools must abide by these laws regarding the data processed by CCTVs. The sole purpose of CCTV is to ensure the security of students, staff, parents, and all those entering the school premises. The school may only use CCTV footage for this purpose. Using them for a specific activity that is not compatible with the original purpose for which the school installed the cameras will require the consent of the data subjects.
Some of the CCTV Laws for Schools include adherence to the ICO’s Code of Practice, the Information Commissioner’s Office instructions and directives, and the General Data Protection Regular (GDPR).
School Security and Safety Grants
Protecting students has become a priority for school administrators in different states. However, school security and safety differ in each state, depending on the district’s budget. Implementing a comprehensive school security system that includes hiring security guards, installing surveillance equipment, and training personnel is costly. Many schools need funding to afford it.
The federal government and different groups provide grant programs to fund school security efforts. But these grants may change from year to year based on the availability of funds. You can reach out to your state's DOE and law enforcement agencies to ask for direction in your search for grant funding.
Here are some examples of grant programs that support school safety and security.
Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence
Established in 2018, STOP offers about $50 million for yearly grants through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) of the DOJ. Its grant program is mainly to prevent acts of violence, implement security equipment and technology, and train students, teachers, and school staff on violence prevention.
Public and private schools, municipalities, law enforcement agencies, and Native American tribes are eligible to apply for this grant.
School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP)
The Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018 authorized this grant program. SVPP grants, through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program of the US Department of Justice, are given directly to states, local government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and Native American tribes.
Its main objective is to improve security at K-12, primary, and secondary schools within the grantee's jurisdiction. It helps cover costs related to safety measures for schools, such as education for law enforcement officers on school violence prevention measures, school safety equipment, enhancing coordination and communication between schools and law enforcement, etc.
State, local government units, public agencies, or Native American tribes must submit their application to request SVPP grants.
Michigan State Police Competitive School Safety Grant Program (CSSGP)
The Michigan State Police Competitive School Safety Grant Program is a local government grant that provides funding to schools in Michigan. CSSGP aims to offer competitive grants to public schools, nonpublic schools, school districts, and ISDs to upgrade school safety and security. The funding intends to help schools purchase and install school technology and equipment, such as access control systems, intercom systems, alert systems, etc., to create a safer school environment.
Eligible expenditures include exterior doorways, vestibules, exterior windows/glass, interior/classroom doors, non-classroom interior doorways, interior windows/glass, barrier systems, etc.
Target Public Safety Grants
The retail giant Target seeks to provide grants for the safety of the communities where it does business, including public schools located within 100 miles of its distribution centers or stores. This invitation-only grant program prioritizes crime prevention and relationship-building between young people and public safety partners. Eligible schools or nonprofits who wish to apply for the grant must contact their local store or distribution center to request a meeting with the Asset Protection team.
Motorola Solutions Grant Assistance
Motorola does not directly provide grants but free assistance to schools and nonprofits to help them secure funding for implementing school communication systems to improve safety and security, such as Motorola’s School SAFE Communications program. You can apply for no-cost grant-seeking assistance via the Motorola Solutions grant page.
State Grants for School Security Equipment
Some states offer grant programs for the purchase of school security equipment. Here are a few on the list:
Indiana Secured School Safety Grant (SSSG): Indiana's SSSG program provides school districts, including private and charter schools, funds to help cover the cost of addressing school security risks and threats.
Texas Education Agency (TEA) School Safety and Security Grant: This annual state-funded grant program provides public schools with funds to cover the cost of installing school security equipment such as bullet-resistant glass, upgraded doors, vehicle barriers, and monitoring and alarm systems. Applications typically close in January of each year.
Schools have different practices and procedures to promote the safety and security of their students, faculty, and staff. Maintaining school safety and security is not an easy task, but it is achievable if you follow the five essential steps in this article. Funding is also a significant component of implementing your school security system. Start by exploring grants near your school, such as local or state grants. Consider the award amount to ensure sufficient coverage of your security improvement needs.