During most discussions of harassment and intimidation related to students, cyber-bullying is sure to be mentioned. And, while this hot topic may not be one of the most pressing problems facing principals rest assured it will be one of the more troubling issues facing students.
For principals, there is not always a clear line of distrinction between whether or not this type of behavior is a school matter. however, as a school administrator, there are things that can be done to help students, parents and staff understand individual responsibilities related to techno harassment.
Provide Parent, Student and Staff Education
While most people have some knowledge of this topic, they sometimes underestimate the extent of a student’s involvement, or, when aware of the problem, may not know how best to help.
Through the use of parent education meetings, newsletters, staff development, student forums, faculty and student handbooks, and school newspapers, principals should provide the following information to students, staff, and parents:
5. Appropriate adults responses to the behavior
Remember, electronic harassment and intimidation can be detrimental a school’s educational climate. Disruptions, fights, and even extreme acts of violence may result when the problem is ignored.
The holiday season can create additional safety and security concerns for school principals. While this time of year is typically a period of giving, for some it will be a time for taking as well. Some school buildings experience extended days of closure with few, if any, activities occurring. These buildings resemble a home with the occupants gone on vacation, thus, creating an increased risk for burglary. On the other hand, some schools schedule a multitude of athletic and other events, many times involving numbers of non-school personnel on campus. Both sets of conditions pose added risk.
Events involving staff and students generate added concerns just by the nature of the holidays. Strategies that can help minimize these various types of added risks occurring during the holidays include the following:
Maintaining a safe school environment is never easy and it is further complicated by the unique issues present during the holiday season. The recognition of the added risks during this time of year, along with using the appropriate response strategies, can make the holidays a better time for all.
It is safe to assume that most schools have emergency management plans that outline appropriate responses to events that happen during the school day. And some schools have written plans that accommodate the needs of a catastrophic event that might occur at a concert, theatre production, or other extracurricular activity. But how many schools have specific plans that provide instructions for administrators and other personnel in the event a tragedy or crisis occurs at an outdoor football, track, or soccer stadium? We suspect not nearly enough.
One of the primary reasons administrators fail to put written plans into place is because the task seems so enormous and far reaching in its consequences that it is often difficult to know where to begin. Many administrators simply bet on the odds and hope that a catastrophic event will not occur and, if it does, that personnel on duty will act based upon past experiences and gut instinct to decide on an appropriate course of action. While this may indeed work some of the time, we would suggest that schools be far more strategic in their planning.
When considering the added issues which make a successful response to a crisis at an athletic stadium more difficult, remember the following.
Writing The Plan - One individual should not be responsible for writing the plan. A committee should develop and sign off on the plan recommendations and components.The planning committee should include:
Additionally, administrators should do the following:
Table of Contents - Although a stadium plan may not be lengthy, it is likely to be 8-10 pages in length and a table of contents will provide users easy access to important information in a short amount of time.
Bulleted information - As much as possible, the plan should be written with brevity in mind. Bulleted information is always preferable to a paragraph format.
Crisis Team Duties and Responsibilities - While supervisory staff might vary depending upon the nature of the event, there are certain duties that should be covered. These duties would include team leader, security, medical, student manager, and communications.
Critical Call List - During a critical incident it is not the time to use a telephone directory to locate the numbers of essential personnel or agencies. This call list should be written in advance, placed within the plan and should include the telephone numbers of the superintendent, the local utility companies, telephone service, poison control, hospitals, and relocation sites etc. Administrators should consider placing these numbers in their cell phone address books for easy and quick access.
Critical Equipment Operations - This section of the plan should include directions for operating a fire extinguisher, utility cutoffs (gas, water, electrical), and bull horns. Locations for fire extinguishers at the stadium should also be included.
Location and Listing of Contents of Crisis Kits - The stadium should have at least one crisis kit available for use. This kit should include flashlight, batteries, blankets, a first aid kit, water, etc. Crisis kit locations should be noted within the plan.
Instructions for the Following Events - The plan should include instructions for tornado or severe weather, chemical spills, earthquake, fire, or bomb threat.
Location of CCTV Equipment - If applicable, the location of cameras, as well as operating instructions should be included within the plan.
Sample Announcements - Evacuation or relocation announcements should be written and placed within the plan. The event announcer should be aware of the content and have easy access to them in case of a need to act quickly. Pre-game announcements should also be included within the plan. This would include such things as announcements regarding district tobacco policies, spectator conduct etc.
As you can see, the plan need not be lengthy. It just needs to be written. In real estate it may be location, locaiton, location. However, in the business of school safety it is planning, preparation, and practice.
Bomb threats pose some unique planning and response issues for school administrators. And, though this is more typically a secondary school problem, planning should occur district-wide to include elementary, administrative and support facilities.
Just what is an appropriate administrative response?
First, evaluate the threat for credibility. Ignoring a bomb threat or always evacuating are two response strategies that can be inherently problematic. The first has some serious and obvious legal and liability implications and the latter can quickly become impractical. The best approach is to carefully evaluate each threat using a team approach and respond based on the merit and circumstances of the incident. While most occurrences of explosive devices being found or detonated on school campuses are not preceded by a communicated threat, this should never be the overriding determiner used in making the final decision. In examining any threat, the primary litmus test is in determining the level of credibility based on all known facts.
Next, determine the level of threat. A low level threat is generally nonspecific with little or no indication of credibility. A medium level threat includes more specific details related to motive, location, etc. A high level threat would include a strong indication that a device is on campus.
A low level response should include notification of staff with instructions to be vigilant of unusual student behavior. Law enforcement should be notified because any type of bomb threat – regardless of degree of credibility – is a criminal offense. While a detailed search may not be warranted, personnel should be alert for any suspicious or unusual item.
A medium level response would include all of the aforementioned, as well a possible evacuation, relocation of students or leaving them in existing locations. It may involve a general walk through of the school by designated staff or, by necessity it may include a room by room examination. Some response by emergency service providers would be expected.
A high level response would usually involve all of the above, as well as evacuation or relocation of students; law enforcement would potentially treat the campus as a crime scene. Preparations for a search of the campus using special equipment or resources may be necessary.
Maintain security of school’s response strategies while keeping staff informed. Plan for the arrival of parents on campus during the event.
Staff should be provided with bomb threat procedures and a thorough discussion should occur at the start of the school year. Provisions should include how substitute staff will be made aware of the procedures and any individualized responsibilities that might be involved. Bomb threat procedures should be classified as confidential and details not made public. Any reference to bomb threat procedures in posted information such as classroom flip charts should be generic and general in nature. Typically most schools use fire evacuation notification systems when the need arises to move students to an alternative location. Staff should stay in the routine of having students take their immediate personal possessions with them during any evacuation. This is especially valuable in a bomb threat where a detailed search is necessary. When personal possessions such as book bags are left in classrooms it may cause personnel to spend extra time searching these items.
Prepare for issues related to communication.
While the chances of an electronic communication instrument such as a cellular phone or two-way radio detonating an explosive device is remote, it can occur, so plan ahead related to communicating with and between staff during the event. Staff supervising students will have to be especially attentive to students trying to use cellular devices and should be prepared to seize phones if necessary. Second, expect media attention on bomb threats, especially with incidents where students are evacuated, relocated or if a suspicious item is found.
In addition, as parents hear about the threat they may call or come to the school. Know that communicating with these two groups will be important and plan in advance on what information can and will be released and how it will occur. Try to gain media cooperation on not publicizing low level threats and sensationalizing others as it may breed copycat incidents.
A variety of resources are available to schools for developing bomb threat response procedures. Schools should always involve emergency responders such as local police and fire departments.
Ask any administrator what causes heartburn and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. But one of the things mentioned at some point in the conversation will be the problem of controlling access in and around the school campus.
Most schools were built in a time when worrying about trespassers was not an issue, and many schools – particularly in rural areas – have multiple buildings; consequently, students are expected to walk between these structures as they make their way to class. While it’s not the ideal during inclement weather – or when trying to control who has access to hallways, staff and students – it is the reality, and school personnel must work within the limitations given.
One strategy that can help is the use of student and staff identification badges. Picture identification badges have been a mainstay in the business world for several years, and many school districts now recognize the value of the card and use this method to help track who belongs and who doesn’t belong in and around the school.
Only individuals who have never worked in a school environment would question whether trespassing by non students is a concern throughout the school year. And, for some principals, it is a daily problem that takes time and resources to manage. While we would never say identification badges are the panacea, the fact of the matter is, they can help.
Implementation of any new security strategy is a balancing act, and administrators must remember that regardless of the nature of the change there will always be those in the community who believe it is too much, as well as those who believe it is too little. School personnel will have to decide whether or not the use of identification badges is a viable strategy; however, at the very least, it is an option that should be discussed and seriously considered.