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Cyberbullying - 21st Century Harassment

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
May 10, 2010

21st Century Harassment - Sent Electronically Yours

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:

  1. A definition of cyber-bullying - Cyber-bullying is often defined as using an electronic device to send damaging or hurtful messages about an individual with the intent to hurt a reputation or friendship with others.
  2. The venues for this destructive behavior– social networking sites, text messaging, emails and instant messaging - can all provide a ‘place’ for harassment. 
  3. The types of cyber-bullying – Provide information related to the various ways this behavior may manifest itself.
    • Flaming - online fights using electronic messages
    • Harassment - repeatedly sending insulting messages
    • Denigration - posting gossip or rumors
    • Impersonation - pretending to be someone else
    • Outing - sharing secrets or embarassing information
    • Cyber-stalking - repeated harassment or threats
    • Dissing - Using disrespectful language or tone
  4. Appropriate student responses to the behavior
  • Tell the harasser to stop - Send the perpetrators a private message or verbal warning to stop sending the messages or to remove the information from a website
  • Ignore the harassment - Although this is sometimes difficult to do, ignoring the harassment may take away the 'thrill' from some perpetrators
  • Have parents contact the parents of the bully - Although not a very popular idea with most adolescents, this strategy will work with some.
  • File a complaint with the website service – Most social networking services will have provisions for filing a complaint if material is considered libelous or hurtful to others.
  • Tell a trusted adult at school – There is merit in informing school officials of the behaviors occurring on and off campus. This allows personnel to closely monitor any negative interaction happening on campus or at a school sponsored event.
  • Contact the police or an attorney – Not all types of cyber-bullying are law violations, but sometimes they meet that threshold. Any type of threat of violence should be reported to the appropriate authorities. It begins a paper trail, and puts the perpetrator on notice to cease and desist.
  • Help friends – If you know someone is being victimized, make sure you don’t participate in the intimidating behavior, and be a friend to them in time of need.
  • Don’t react emotionally; react with dignity – Remember the real winner in this type of conflict is not the one that has the last word; it is the individual that keeps control of his emotions. “Getting even” is not an appropriate response

5.       Appropriate adults responses to the behavior

  • Recognize warning signs - There are a number of warning signs that may indicate cyber-bullying is occurring, i.e. sadness or anger during or after internet use, withdrawal from friends and activities, decline of grades, depression, wanting to dropout of school, suicidal thoughts, etc.
  • Beware of legal liabilities.  Remember adults may be held legally liable for the behavior of juveniles.  Parents and school officials need to carefully monitor the usage of electronic devices knowing they may be financially liable if harm or damage is done to others. 
  • Have conversations about social responsibility – Have a serious discussion related to social responsibility and what it means at school, home, and within the community. 
  • Include cyber-bullying and sexting in the student code of conduct – Make certain this offense is clearly defined with appropriate disciplinary consequences outlined in the document.
  • Notify law enforcement if a law violation is suspected – If the violation occurs through the use of school owned equipment or if it happens at a school event, school personnel should contact local authorities.

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.

Holiday Depression and School Security

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Nov 30, 2009

 'Tis the Season...to be Safe & Secure

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:

  1. Provide local law enforcement with the adjusted holiday schedule including when the offices will be open, during what periods custodial staff will be on campus and what, if any, activities will be occurring such as athletic tournaments and practices. This will aid the local beat officer in recognizing when something is out of place during a time of year when the routine of personnel is atypical.
  2. Remind staff to follow procedures for the handling of money and other items of value solicited and collected in the days leading up to the holidays. Cash should never be left in a classroom overnight. Most schools have secure locations designated for the keeping of money, and staff should be reminded to follow building practices and procedures related to this activity.
  3. As teachers leave for the holidays they should audit their classrooms for valuables that might offer enticement for the unauthorized shopper. Electronic and other items of value should be secured by placing them in a closet, cabinet or desk. Small, valuable, easily concealed items should be removed from ground level window sills, and blinds and shades should be pulled to prevent viewing into the classroom from the outside. Computer monitors should be turned off so attention is not drawn from the outside into an individual classroom.
  4. Custodial staff should ensure all exterior lighting designed for security purposes is functioning properly. This should be done in advance of the holidays to allow for repair time if necessary. It is always a good idea for custodial staff or other designated individuals to sporadically check the building during times of extended closure. This not only helps with security issues but also for maintenance problems that might arise from broken water pipes or heating problems.
  5. Meet with staff that are overseeing or supervising activities during the holidays. Make sure they are familiar with security and safety measures. This would include such things as locations of emergency supplies such as first aid, critical contact numbers, and evacuation and sheltering procedures for the area where the event is being held. And, staff should be reminded to monitor and restrict access into areas where activities are not being held.
  6. For staff taking students on out of town trips, other planning concerns will be present. With large numbers of family and school staff on the move during the holidays, it may be especially difficult to locate certain people during an emergency so making sure that all contact numbers, including temporary ones, are on file in the school office will be important. Additionally, staff should leave a detailed itinerary with school officials.
  7. The behavior of some students will deteriorate in the weeks preceding the holiday season. Holidays are often portrayed as a time of happiness, but for some students this time of year means doing without and the recognition of this can cause an increase in aggressive behavior including threats of harm to self or others. Additionally, some students show signs of depression by displaying a variety of anti-social behaviors. This can include, but not be limited to, defiance of authority, disrespectful behavior toward other students and staff and physical aggression. School staff should be on the alert for changes in a student’s behavior that seem to correspond to the approach of the holidays; when observed, counselors should be immediately involved and intervention steps taken.

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.

Crisis Planning for Outdoor Stadiums

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Crisis Planning - Outdoor Stadiums 

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. 

  • Significant Numbers of Non-Students Will Be Present
  • Activities May Not Necessarily Be Confined to One Area
  • Sheltering & Evacuation Areas Will Be Limited
  • Communication May Be More Difficult
  • Staffing Will Be Unique

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: 

  • School Administration
  • Athletic Staff
  • Custodial Personnel
  • Law Enforcement or Security
  • Concession & Gate Attendants
  • Facility/Event Managers

Additionally, administrators should do the following:

  • A copy of the plan should be kept in the ticket booth, concession stand, and the announcers table or booth at all times. A copy should also be placed in the crisis kit located at the stadium.
  • The plan should be provided to all district groups or personnel that may use the stadium during evening or Saturday events. For example, if community groups or other schools within the district use the facility on a regular basis, a copy of pertinent documents should be provided to designated representatives.
  • The plan should be environmentally protected by using plastic sleeves for paper inserts and placed within a three ringed binder. 

Plan Contents

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 - An Explosive Issue

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

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.

School Access Control - Who Is In Your School?

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Who Is In Your School?

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. 

  1. Work within the school community to educate students, parents and staff related to the value of the badge; taking time for this important step can help reduce resistance when implementation begins. Make this a recurring topic when meeting with student focus groups. At the very least, students will appreciate the fact they were asked for an opinion. 
  2. Inform students of the reasons for the display of the badges.  Don't become so busy or dogmatic in response that student voices are not heard.  Listen carefully, and take their concerns seriously.
  3. Use the badge for a variety of purposes, and don’t try to sell the concept on the basis of safety and security alone. The more reasons students have to use the badge in their daily lives, the more likely they will be to accept the card as a viable tool. There are a number of uses for the card and the more value and convenience for students and parents, the more skepticism may be reduced. 
  4. Security aside, badges can also be used for the following: 
    • Library card
    • Debit card for lunch or other school purchases
    • Activity card for entrance into school events
    • Internet usage
    • Electronic class attendance procedures
    • Anonymous "tip line" numbers for student use
  5. Business discounts (Some local businesses will give discounts to students who can display a current picture identification badge.) 
  6. Consider the use of incentives for the proper displaying of the badge. To be eligible for the "contest" students must wear the badge each school day without having to reprint a new one for a pre-designated period of time. Having a monthly drawing for a gift certificate to the student "winners" can be a fun way to reinforce the importance of compliance. 
  7. During the initial implementation it is well advised to try not to make this a disciplinary issue. Student and staff need time to acclimate to the new requirements, and only after a reasonable period of time should students who repeatedly choose not to comply be given a disciplinary consequence. 

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.

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