Guest post by Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach
Principals have a responsibility to ensure student safety while also providing a supportive environment that is conducive to learning. This requires a careful balance of addressing physical safety while also addressing the psychological safety of students. Despite the current focus on arming teachers and other school personnel, this tactic does not improve school safety, carries significant risk, and can actually undermine the learning environment. Rather, reasonable physical security measures include:
- Secure access points to school grounds and school buildings
- Appropriate check-in/out procedures for visitors
- Proper lighting and adult supervision in lobbies, hallways, parking lots, and other open spaces
- Environmental design that creates natural barriers to playgrounds and other open spaces
- In some communities, the use of school resource officers (SROs)
Psychological safety entails:
- Facilitating trusting relationships among staff and students
- Providing access to comprehensive school mental and behavioral health services and school-employed mental health professionals
- Fostering a positive school climate
- Employing positive discipline practices
- Developing mechanisms for students and staff to report concerning behaviors or threats combined with an evidence-based protocol for responding
Balancing physical and psychological safety creates a school environment that supports student learning, naturally prevents violence, and supports an effective recovery in the event that a crisis does occur on or near school grounds.
Our students cannot learn if they do not feel safe, and comprehensive school safety requires more than just the purchase of equipment or a stand-alone professional development session. It requires sustained long-term effort combined with the appropriate human and financial resources. Comprehensive school safety is not a one-size-fits-all approach; efforts must be tailored to the unique needs of the school community and be developmentally appropriate for the age of the students you are serving.
Recognizing the importance of safe and healthy learning environments, along with the importance of flexibility and local data-based decision-making, Congress authorized the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (also known as Title IV, Part A) in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This flexible formula-funded grant provides local districts with funds to provide access to a well-rounded curriculum, utilize effective instructional technology, and support safe and healthy schools and students. Most recently, Congress appropriated $1.1 billion for this grant program, which will allow most school districts to make meaningful investments in programs critical to ensuring school safety. These funds can help support evidence-based school safety and violence prevention efforts, such as:
- Creating collaborative district- and building-level school safety and crisis response teams
- Implementing or scaling up comprehensive school mental and behavioral health services, including improving access to school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers, and developing school-community partnerships with community agencies
- Providing violence prevention education and programming for students
- Offering professional development for relevant school staff (and students, as appropriate) on the early warning signs of violence
- Mental health first aid and other training to educate staff, parents, students, and the community on identifying and referring students who may have a mental health need
- Training on and implementation of evidence-based threat assessment protocols
- Developing and implementing a multi-tiered system of integrated social-emotional and mental and behavioral supports for all students, including those identified as being at risk
- Training and implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports and other positive discipline strategies intended to reduce the inappropriate use of suspension and expulsion
- Restorative justice practices
- Fostering a positive school climate
- Mentoring programs and other efforts to foster positive relationships between students and school staff
- Trauma-informed practices
- Training for students and staff on appropriate conflict resolution skills
This is not an exhaustive list of how Title IV, Part A funds can be used, and, as principals, you are encouraged to share the specific needs of your school with your superintendent and local school board to ensure that Title IV, Part A funds are utilized for efforts that will best complement and enhance existing school safety and violence prevention efforts in your building.
Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, PhD, NCSP, is the director of government relations at the National Association of School Psychologists.