Following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I’ve spoken to parents who asked: “What should I ask my child’s principal about school safety? and “What can be done right now to make my child’s school safer?”
Now that we know more about how several systems failed the students at Stoneman Douglas we need to take a close look at school sites and the lack of mental health services/funding.
As a former Miami-Dade Public School Board member, who chaired Facilities and Constructions Committee post-Sandy Hook, I offer these questions that every parent should ask their public (or private) school administrator and recommend a group setting so that questions can be answered and hopefully shared with parents who were unable to attend:
▪ Is the perimeter of our school site secure? Fencing, gates, doors and locks and begin by limiting access to your school site. While school access restrictions can complicate pick up/drop off consider; the fewer the entry points the easier it is to secure those entry points. Walk the perimeter of your school, consider the vulnerabilities. Remember that construction at school site usually occurs over the summer, but fences, shrubs and locks can be donated or purchased and installed immediately.
▪ Once you know the entry points, ask what is the check-in procedure at these entry points? Does your school have a policy for checking bags and purses? Does someone look visitors in the eye, check identification and direct them? If not, can we hire someone? In the interim, can parents volunteer in shifts to perform these tasks? Remember that all volunteers must comply with the Jennifer Lunsford law.
▪ Speaking of who is securing entry points; Do we have a school security guard and/or school resource officer at entry points? Are there any security guards/police at the school site? If yes, what are their hours and obligations? Who hires them? Who supervises them? What are the qualifications for being our security guard? What training, if any, do our security guard(s) receive? Are they armed? Under what conditions can they leave their post? Consider that Stoneman Douglas had armed deputies that “didn’t go in.”
▪ Do we have security cameras? Where is the live feed transmitted to? Who watches the feed? Is there a delay? What is the protocol for responding to suspicious activity and/or altercations? Consider a security camera is only as effective as who is watching the feed.
▪ Do we have hand-held metal detectors on site? How often are student’s backpacks searched? Are the searches random? Please consider discussing the possibility of mesh bookbag and/or clear bookbag for students at your school. I purchased a pair for my teens who attend public school and have spoken to them about how safety trumps privacy.
▪ What is the Code Red protocol? A Code Red is a full lookdown based on an emanate threat. The treat can be anything from a burglary in the area to smoke in a building to an active shooter. You must know what happens at your school during a Code Red, i.e. do the doors lock automatically? How are teachers/students notified about Code Red status. Consider that tweens and teens take their devices to school, we must register their cell phone numbers and send them Code Red text alert, so they know when it is NOT a drill!
▪ What type of fire alarm is there on site? Can it be overridden? Consider that the fire alarm at Stoneman Douglas did not have a delay which would have allowed staff to cancel it and maintain Code Red lockdown.
▪ What are our evacuation procedures? When was the last time that students/staff performed an evacuation drill? What staff members oversee evacuation? How will parents/students be notified?
▪ What is our policy regarding incidents reports? What is the follow-up procedure for incident reports?
▪ How often does a school psychologist see students at our school? What is the school psychologists current backlog? Is administration informed when there is a crisis at home, like the death of a parent or guardian? When is the school psychologist called in? Consider that now more than ever we need the state to fund a school psychologist at every school site.
While many focus on gun laws, please consider that we also need to discuss school site safety/mental health services. State funding is determined by priorities.
We can all make every school safer by providing districts with resources for site safety and mental health services, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions, demanding answers, action and funding.
Raquel Regalado is a former Miami-Dade School Board member.