When Problems at Home Create Danger At School

Problems at home have a certain way of spilling over into the school space. We refer to this issue as domestic spillover. Domestic spillover can occur in many forms. As an education professional, you may be forced into the middle of a dispute over which parent can pick the children up from school. You may encounter a parent in the middle of a custody battle who becomes a potential kidnapping threat. An estranged husband of a teacher may visit the school looking to confront his wife. Any instance of domestic spillover poses a great threat to the individuals involved and the safety of the school as a whole. To combat domestic spillover, clear and open communication on behalf of all parties is key.

Why are schools a prime location for domestic spillover? Schools are a constant in the lives of teachers and students. An estranged husband may not know where his family is living, but he knows where his children go to school, or where his wife teaches, and he knows what times they will be in the building. The consistency makes school a prime target. Both teachers and students are susceptible to bringing domestic spillover into the school. Below we will discuss the reasons behind and ways to combat domestic spillover from both teachers and students.

Domestic Spillover Surrounding the Child

Who is allowed to pick up the child from school? Are there any adults in a child’s life who could pose a danger? These are questions often made more complicated by issues like parent separation, divorce or custody battles.

At the beginning of the year, parents will fill out forms authorizing certain people to pick up their children but, as the year goes on, circumstances may change. It is essential that the front office stays aware of any. To keep all children at your school safe in the event of a domestic disruption, the parent and the school each have unique roles to uphold:

Parents are responsible for keeping the school informed of any and all changes that affect the people authorized to pick-up and see their children.

Schools must be aware of changes to enforce them.

Parents are responsible for sharing all legal documents.

If there is a restraining order or another legal document that will impact the child, parents must present the school with a physical copy. At SEC, we get calls from clients when parents verbally share the details of a restraining order. Schools can not and should not enforce a restraining order until they receive a physical copy.

Schools are responsible for enforcing all legal documents:

If a parent has presented the school with a restraining order, the school must enforce it. If the parent does not present the legal document, schools must follow whatever plan is currently in place for the child.

This seems simple enough, but we often run into trouble with parents who are reconciling. Imagine Dad has a restraining order against Mom and he has presented it to the school, preventing Mom from picking up their children. The school must enforce the order, no matter what. Even if Dad calls and reports that he and Mom have worked things out, and requests for Mom to be able to pick the children up again, the school cannot allow this. The school can only allow Mom to pick up the child again if Dad presents the school with legal proof that the restraining order has been lifted. This protocol helps keep children safe and helps the school avoid being put in the middle.

Schools must ensure all appropriate staff is aware of new arrangements.

“Appropriate staff” to be made aware depends on the unique situation. If there is a parent who is considered especially dangerous, it may be important to let the entire staff know to be on the lookout. Failing to keep the staff informed could cause problems, especially if a parent who is familiar to the school staff is no longer allowed entry.

Consider a family with parents going through a divorce. Mom typically picks the kids up from school, but Dad picks them up a few times per month. Teachers are familiar with this arrangement and know both Mom and Dad. During the divorce process, Mom takes out a restraining order on Dad and he is no longer allowed to pick the children up from school. It is critical in this scenario that all teachers be made aware of the change so they would know there was a change to the routine.

Schools are responsible for making these responsibilities policy.

If it is not already included, schools should update their policy booklets to include the protocol surrounding domestic disputes. The school should clearly communicate the policy to all new families and to any parents who share safety or custody struggles with you.

When in doubt, call for backup.

Separation, divorce and custody battles are stressful times for families and situations can seem less than black and white. Our clients are welcome to contact us for guidance. The police are also a great resource. If you have any questions about documents, your responsibility, or feel a child is in immediate danger, you should consult the authorities.

Domestic Spillover Surrounding the Teacher

On April 10, 2017, a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California, killing one student and one teacher before taking his own life. This was not a random attack –  it was a tragic instance of domestic spillover involving a teacher. The shooter, Cedric Anderson was in an estranged relationship with the victim, special needs teacher Karen Elaine Smith. Anderson likely did not know where Smith was living, but he did know where and when she was teaching. A school is a known and consistent location in the lives of teachers and students.

How could this tragedy have been prevented?  The shooter did not even have to force himself into the building. According to San Bernardino Police Captain, the shooter signed in normally at the front desk, as he was familiar with the front office staff. Had the front office staff known about the estranged relationship between Anderson and Smith, they might have turned the gunman away at the front desk. While parents may be more likely to bring security concerns surrounding their children to the school’s attention, it is equally important for teachers to raise concerns about their own safety.

Encouraging teachers to share domestic concerns is a delicate task. There is a fine line between asking teachers to share critical safety information and forcing them to reveal personal details about their lives. Schools must work to create an environment where teachers feel safe sharing if there is someone that might put them and the school in danger. Even minimal details can be lifesaving – a teacher could provide a name, vehicle type or license plate model to look out for. We have found it is effective to be clear with teachers about the reason you are asking them to share personal safety concerns. No one wants to be the person to bring danger to the school.

 

Knowledge is power and, by sticking to clear policies and creating environments of trust, you can create a safer school for everyone in your building.

A Generation Changed: School Security Post-Columbine

Do you remember where you were on April 20th, 1999?  Chances are you won’t if you’re asked that question.  What if I asked the same question a different way?  Do you remember where you were when you heard about Columbine? Many people will likely answer “I’ll never forget.”

April 20, 2017 will mark the 18th anniversary of the Columbine School Massacre. Many kids graduating high school this year weren’t even born the day of the Columbine shooting.  They have grown up entirely in schools that have been preparing for, and trying to prevent, violent acts like Columbine from happening again.  Yet, in 2017, school shootings remain a threat to American institutions.  But at SEC, we believe the threat of school shootings and other modern day emergencies can be controlled and largely eliminated. We believe we can be pioneers in elimination of the threat of school violence.

As improbable as that may sound, schools have mastered a major safety transformation before. Fire safety is the perfect example. One hundred years ago, there was no fire preparedness at schools and fires were a huge threat. Over time, we have developed emergency preparedness strategies. First, fire brigades were implemented around the country. Today, we have fire codes, fire drills, and we teach kids “stop, drop and roll.” Thanks to fire preparedness planning, problem awareness and improved technology, the issue is largely eliminated in schools.

How can we begin the process of eradicating gun violence? Our founder, Jason Russell, spoke deeply about this in his article in Seen Magazine. Schools must embrace all forms of emergency preparedness in the same way they embrace fire preparedness. Preparedness occurs in three layers. The first layer is physical and technical security measures. The second is the development of policies and procedures to ensure those features are utilized as designed and intended. And the final and most important security layer is training. These layers are like the legs of a stool — you need all three to make a safety plan successful.

SEC can help any school address all three legs of the stool, and is looking to the future by partnering with construction firms. When SEC is involved in the construction of a school from the onset, they can ensure the highest levels of safety and security are seamlessly implemented into the design and build of the school. When architects and clients bring SEC in from the conception of planning we can offer insight into every safety and security decision. We can contribute to decisions like which glass to choose for windows, or which school-wide communication system to use.

There is no one-size-fits-all for security planning and decisions should be based on each school’s unique security threat. For example, at childcare centers threats are more likely to come from the outside. It might be appropriate to install thick glass windows or biometric scanners at entrances. Conversely, research has shown that threats at high schools are much more likely to come from the inside of the building. In a high school, more of an investment should be made on securing the inside of a school with investments in training staff and students to look for warning signs in their peers, and making an anonymous reporting system readily available. By considering the unique operation at each institution, we can assist schools and architects in choosing the safest, yet most cost effective featuresm for their unique building.

It is equally important to have security in mind during building renovations. Schools should consider implementing appropriate security features, but must also consider how any changes they make will affect existing emergency preparedness planning. Take, for instance, a school whose emergency communication plan involved a school PA system that was altered or removed during renovations. It is critical that the plan be updated during to match the school’s new reality.

Here are a few questions to consider during any new construction or renovation project:

  • Are there adequate exits?
  • How would a lockdown work at your school? Sometimes, doors don’t have locks because of fire codes. Or, a lock might be impractical to operate during an emergency situation (fine motor skills can be compromised during high-stress situations). Is there a way to lock doors from the inside? Or, can they be locked from a central location during an emergency?
  • Think about windows and window trims. Instead of one large window, install three smaller windows with shatter-resistant glass and film. Or, consider putting trim on glass doors to prevent intruders from breaking the glass to gain access to the handle.
  • Is your crisis plan updated? When school administrators update their physical floor plan, they often forget to update their crisis plan. If there was an emergency, authorities would be left to work off an old document. To avoid this problem, make sure all plans are updated simultaneously.

By integrating safety and security into the design and build of construction, we are confident we can pioneer a safer future for the children of America. If you are looking to build or renovate, we would love to help. Feel free to reach out to us on our website at any time.

 

Photo by Brent Johnson © (http://www.brentpix.com/Colorado/Columbine-Memorial/)

Improving School Safety Through Construction

SEC is thrilled to be working with Rockford Construction to pioneer the future of security-integrated construction. Together, we can to build educational centers that are designed with security and emergency preparedness in mind.

Our CEO Jason Russell participated in this blog with Rockford Construction. Check it out to learn more about the motivation behind our partnership: Improving School Safety Through Construction