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.

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/)

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

One of the most important decisions parents will ever make is choosing a child care provider. After all, if your kids can’t be with you, you owe it to them – and to yourself – to choose a safe, secure, loving, engaging and encouraging environment.

Note that “safe” and “secure” come first in our list of criteria – and they should in yours, too. But all too often, parents focus on other factors such as location, convenience, hours and costs. While these are important factors, parents are not asking enough questions when it comes to safety and security.

Don’t know where to start? These eight questions should help you as you begin to select the safest child care provider:

  • How do you access the center? This is the most basic of questions – and one of the most telling. The best methods involve some sort of individual code or biometric, such as a fingerprint. While some centers do have a coded entry, parents don’t realize that everyone has the same code – even parents who have not had a child attending for years.
  • What is the emergency plan? May I see it? You want to make sure the center has taken some steps to actually do some preparation. Most centers do have an emergency plan, but many times they can’t even find it. Even the step of asking for it allows you to see what their level of preparation is like.
  • How secure are the classrooms? When you are touring, pay attention to the classroom doors. Do they lock? If not, are they able to be barricaded? Many child cares don’t have the ability to lock or barricade classroom doors, which puts children and the teachers at risk if an intruder comes in.
  • What are your emergency supplies? Where are they located? A first aid kit is the beginning – but it’s not enough. SEC kits include food, water, face masks in the event of a chemical attack, air horns, whistles, traffic-crossing vests, evacuation ropes with handholds, a portable toilet, pediatric tourniquet and more.
  • What kind of training do you provide? How often? By whom? A lot of child cares tout security, but what they are really touting is security cameras that no one is watching. Instead, make sure to ask about CPR, first aid and fire training, as well as training for other emergencies. Be sure to ask who does the training – and make sure it is someone with the right experience.
  • Have you had any violations? All child care centers must be licensed by the state where they operate. Checking the state’s licensing records to see if the center has had any violations – and, if so, how many violations and for what types of incidents?
  • Do you have an AED? While automatic external defibrillators are increasingly common at elementary and high schools, not many child cares have invested in them. A center should have an adult version of the AED, which will automatically adjust the voltage based on the weight.
  • Why isn’t the center full? You might think it’s your lucky day to find a center with immediately open spots. But you should ask probing questions if a center is not full. You will be better off on a waiting list at a qualified center than in a troubled center that has immediate openings.

Safety is not something you should ever compromise on. You would not take your child to a quack just because you couldn’t get a quick appointment with your pediatrician. A child care provider not focused on safety is a ticking time bomb. Don’t rush to make an unsafe choice.

You walk through the front door, juggling grocery bags, your purse and toddler. You barely have the door closed when the phone rings; you quickly put everything down and scramble to answer it. While you’re distracted you didn’t noticed your son digging into your purse and popping the blood pressure pills that look just like candy.

That single moment could turn into your worst nightmare.

Yet we all get distracted — and we all assume that home is the safest place for our families, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Statistically, it is more likely for children to be injured at home than anywhere else.

But that doesn’t need to be the case. With a little extra precaution, it can be home-sweet-home for you and your kids. Here are seven common hazards that parents should take steps to prevent:

Choking: Food that isn’t cut into age-appropriate bites for babies and children is a prime hazard. But so are other household items, such as electrical cords, balloons or items from mom’s purse. Remove any temptations by picking them up or placing them out of sight and out of reach. Learn basic first aid practices ways to alleviate choking in case of an emergency.

Falling:  A child’s fearlessness can be terrifying for parents. It’s important to utilize safeguards like safety gates or adding soft surfaces underneath play equipment to avoid injury. It’s a balancing act to teach your kids about their mobility limitations without cocooning them in bubble wrap. Prime targets for falls include: shopping carts, slides, countertops, household furniture and shelving.

Poisoning: Kids are curious; anything used by a parent intrigues them. Whether you’re scrubbing the tub, washing the windows or using perfume, they want to do it, too. Make sure to lock up the cabinets that house the colorful laundry soap pods, any cleaning agents, perfumes or hand sanitizers. Take this moment and finally save the Poison Control Center’s number into your phone, 1.800.222.1222.

Drowning: Children love playing in the water, whether it’s in the bathtub, your dog’s water dish or in an unattended bucket. Water is an attractive nuisance when kids are around. Should a child fall into the bucket or be left unattended in the tub, it can take only five to ten seconds for them to drown. Avoid the risk and never leave them alone and be sure to empty any buckets after use.

Burns: Items a parent drink,holds or touches are the very items your child wants desperately. They want to mimic mom and dad. To the best of your abilities, keep hot cups of coffee or tea and dangling cords from curling or flat irons out of sight and out of reach. Make it common practice to use the back burners on your stove to protect your little one from accidentally reaching up to grab a pot handle or touching a scalding hot surface.

Home appliances: Limit access to potential threats with the use of safety gates as well as keeping appliances closed so that your child doesn’t accidently get trapped and suffocate. Prime areas of concern include washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. Close the dishwasher every time. Leaving the door down leaves sharp utensils, like knives and forks, exposed. Remove stovetop knobs or keep children out of the kitchen to avoid them accidently turning on the gas, which could lead to a possible fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Take away the car keys. Should your child accidentally use the remote start in a closed garage, it’s a prime candidate for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Exercise equipment: Unplug and secure exercise equipment whenever not in use. Children left unattended on treadmills may not just fall but could be strangled by a dangling cord. Stationary bikes and free weights left out often lead to stuck, smashed or pinched fingers.

emergency-preparedness-in-school

 

Our founder and CEO, Jason Russell, talked with Accredited Schools Online for a comprehensive article on emergency preparedness in the face of natural or manmade disasters. Lots of great tips.

http://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/resources/emergency-preparedness-in-school/

As we approach the holidays, visions of turkey and presents and family gatherings all float temptingly in our brains. After all, the last six weeks of the year are all about togetherness, right?

Not necessarily. Separation and divorce can be the exception to that long-held family rule, particularly at this time of the year. Emotions are heightened as we approach the holidays, which carry with them the expectations of shared parenting – and shared schedules.

Parents going through their first set of holidays apart can find themselves in unfamiliar space, jockeying for time with their kids and trying to manage competing schedules. As the acrimony level rises, patience can decline and tempers can flare.

This can be a bad recipe for childcare providers, whose first – and primary responsibility – is to ensure a safe environment for the children in their care. We always see an uptick in bad behavior and schedule struggles at this time of year for our childcare clients and wanted to share some tips that will make November and December easier:

  • Ensure the custody order in place is enforced. We tell our clients never to go on faith and to request a copy of the court order so they can have it on file. Then stick to that order – no exceptions. This eliminates the need for daycare staff to make judgment calls and takes subjectivity out of the equation.
  • Communicate adjustments to the classroom. It’s not enough for the administrative office to understand the custody arrangements. This needs to be communicated to the classroom teachers and aides to ensure they know who can – and who cannot – pick up a child.
  • Enforce PPOs consistently. Personal protection orders can be used like sticks and carrots, punishing bad behavior and rewarding good. We see this often where a mom has taken a PPO order out against a dad, then comes in to tell the office, “He’s been better, it’s OK for him to pick up our child.” This puts the daycare team in the position of being a judge and can create serious liability and safety issues. It’s always best to stick to the order. If a parent pushes back, encourage them to go to court and get it amended.
  • Be ready for events. Year-end can mean a spate of classroom parties, plays and performances that require both parents to appear in the same space at the same time. This can increase the likelihood of volatility and create potentially dangerous situations. We teach de-escalation strategies to our clients so they are equipped to remain calm during parental fireworks and quickly and safely calm all parties.

Back to school means new crayons, new backpacks, new teachers, new friends – and new safety drills.

Fire drills have long been a fact of life in our schools. In fact, I dare you to find an elementary classroom where the kids can’t finish this set of commands: Stop. Drop.

Of course the answer is Roll – and of course, that’s what we teach children to do in the event of a fire. Each month, from kindergarten to high school, teachers routinely conduct fire drills. They are engrained in our culture – we conduct fire drills and there’s no fear associated with them.

The same can’t be said of safety drills, though. Increasingly, we are seeing a pushback from schools, teachers and parents who object to practice for sheltering in place or lockdowns. The disparity in response is puzzling – fire can kill as much as gunfire, yet we see a visceral fear when it comes to safety drills that just isn’t there for fire drills.

We are strong advocates for age-appropriate safety drills. It’s less important for kids, particularly younger kids, to understand why they are practicing certain movements than to understand the movements themselves. It’s a case of stimulus-response: When you hear this noise, it means we have to move to this area and be quiet – just as when you hear the fire alarm, it means you have to line up and exit the classroom and then the school quickly and quietly.

When younger kids ask why we are doing a particular drill, it’s OK to be general. We have found it works to tell them that there are some emergencies where to be safe, we have to leave the building – but other times, we have to stay inside to be safe. Framing it as practicing being safe within the classroom is a non-scary way to broach the subject.

Of course, the answer is age dependent. High schoolers will know – and likely have less anxiety over – the reason behind the drills. Even middle schoolers may have some concept of the reasons behind a drill.

For younger children, though, such as daycare, kindergarten and early elementary, safety drills are more designed for teachers to practice and understand the spacing issues. Do all the kids fit in this area? How quickly can I get the door locked?

We recommend that schools practice safety drills at least twice a year. These should consist of:

  • Establishing a simple alert: Schools could use the public address system, but they need to have a back-up of some type, such as an air horn, verbal alert or something that can’t be easily defeated by a technology fail. When it comes to alert, two is one and one is none, so be sure to have a backup.
  •  Recognizing the safe areas of the classroom: We helps schools identify this during the site assessment. They want to pick spots away from doors, our of the line of site from windows and preferably behind a locked or secured door.
  • Understanding what you can physically do: The capabilities of the school will determine the protocol, so it’s critical to understand what the building will and will not do. It’s not enough to say that you have to lock or barricade the door to a classroom – some classroom doors have no locks while others open from the outside. A site assessment will allow teachers to identify the protocol that works best with their facility.

Approaching safety drills in an age-appropriate way ensures students practice the movements they need to respond quickly in a crisis, giving both parents and teachers added peace of mind.

Situational awareness, not “stranger danger” is the best strategy for keeping kids safe

The concept of “stranger danger” is a common one for parents to employ when trying to ensure their children are safe.

But that practice is limiting and doesn’t take into account a key factor: If harm is done to a child, it is more likely to be by someone known to the family, and sometimes someone who is trusted.

I know this doesn’t fit the common narrative in our society, but the fact is that predators, particularly sexual predators, tend to be people who are friends or acquaintances. Actual abductions by strangers are rare.

What’s more, there are plenty of times strangers can be helpful to children, such as police officers in uniform or staff members at a zoo if a child is lost.

So what I advocate is situational awareness for children. This approach helps instill in children the need for them to be aware without shifting to paranoia. Children need to be reassured that they are going to be protected but they also need to be empowered to be part of that protection.

It is a good idea to help our children understand their surroundings and what is acceptable in terms of adult behavior.

Emphasize to your children that they can say “no” to an adult when they are uncomfortable or when an adult is trying to force them to do something they know is wrong. Adults never need to ask a child for help. If an adult asks a child for help finding a puppy turn and run away.

Prepare your child for the worst case scenario: If someone tries to grab them, do everything possible – bite, kick, scream, make noise and run as fast as they can – to get away or get attention.

There are practical ways to prepare your child to be aware of surroundings. For one, play memorization games with them to help them pay attention, such as asking what color was the car next to us in the parking lot, or the color of someone’s hair while we were standing in line. It’s a fun way to get their minds focused on awareness. I now find my kids noticing things I didn’t.

Teach kids to introduce themselves to people, look someone in the eye and say their name at least loudly enough to be heard. Why? It shows attention and an appropriate amount of assertiveness. Research shows that offenders tend to choose victims who exhibit victim behavior – not paying attention, head down, walking with no purpose.

Lastly, I want to share a caution with parents about Facebook. It is so tempting to share happy moments but be aware of how information can be used. If you put a picture of your daughter on Facebook wishing her a happy birthday by name, that is all information that can be used to try to entice a child. Limit the information you use and, most importantly, use privacy settings.

While we don’t want to induce paranoia, we want to encourage common sense and paying attention to surroundings as sure ways for parents and children to feel secure.