Fostering a safe and trusting school environment requires vigilance, open communication and regular training. This workshop examines how these elements can be incorporated into daily operations and policies to create a safer learning experience.
Maintaining a consistent and transparent communication channel with parents helps build trust and confidence in school safety measures. This session explores how schools can proactively seek parental feedback and incorporate it into their overall reunification plan.
School safety is a top concern for many students and their families. In the aftermath of high-profile school shootings, schools and communities often respond with strategies that aim to improve safety and reduce violence. These strategies range from imposing strict security protocols and enhancing surveillance to holding active shooter drills. However, these measures can sometimes have negative consequences and may actually increase student anxiety and distrust.
This special issue aims to help readers identify and understand the current state of knowledge regarding these critical issues. It addresses key research questions and unpacks empirically-based answers for a diverse array of educational stakeholders, bridging the gap between research, policy, and practice.
One strategy that has garnered much attention is tip lines, where individuals can report a potential threat like the SaferWatch app. These tips can be submitted via text message, app, email, or phone call; they can also be anonymous. However, research shows that such approaches are not effective at preventing violence because they fail to address the psychological factors that lead to violence.
Behavioral threat assessment is another approach to school safety that attempts to prevent violent events before they happen. This method was first used by law enforcement agencies to investigate and assess threats against high-profile political leaders and has since been adapted for school environments. Research on this approach suggests that it is an important tool for identifying and responding to student-related threats, but it must be coupled with other prevention efforts.
While many countries have made major investments in school safety protocols, the majority of students still do not feel safe at their schools. Violence in and around schools continues to be a significant problem, impacting millions of children globally and costing society trillions of dollars in lost lifetime earnings. This is in part because the global learning crisis caused by COVID-19 has heightened and deepened a pre-existing child rights crisis and made children more vulnerable to violent behavior in their daily lives, at home, at school, and online.
School safety is important for many reasons. Schools are not only places for education and learning, but also serve as evacuation centres during emergencies. Keeping students and teachers safe is thus a major responsibility for the authorities and school administrations. Making schools safer is a holistic exercise that encompasses structural safety of the buildings as well as non-structural measures like awareness generation, ensuring communication, capacity building of teachers and students, rehearsals and mock drills etc.
As countries around the world begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of reopening schools is front and center for educators and parents alike. School reopening carries the potential for a resurgence of the virus, so the decision to open or not to open is one that should be made with care and consideration.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented disruption to the educational systems around the globe as people were asked to self-quarantine and follow emergency protocols. As a result, schools were forced to close and cease face-to-face teaching and instruction. The need to find a quick replacement for traditional learning emerged which could help bridge the gap between the demands of the public and the needs of the education system.
Although we have a lot of knowledge about how to make schools safer, there are still questions that remain. For example, we don’t fully understand which characteristics of existing strategies are most effective at preventing violence in schools. One new approach that has been explored is a “tip line,” which is designed to allow students to share information about situations that are harmful or threaten their safety. However, a recent NIJ-funded study suggests that tip lines may not prevent school violence unless they are coupled with efforts to ensure that tips are investigated and responded to.
Japan, the world’s highest populated nation and one of its largest urban areas, is seen as a model for Disaster Resilience Education (DRE). In addition to having a comprehensive school safety program incorporating DRE in the curriculum, Japan has a system for disseminating knowledge and information regarding DRR to students, communities, and society at large.
The DRE in Japanese schools is incorporated into the national curriculum through integrated learning in the form of lessons and activities on disaster preparedness, both formal and non-formal. In the former, for example, students learn about disasters through the scientific approach, whereas in the latter they receive training on DRR through a life skills context.
As a result, students become able to understand the risks and effects of disasters and take action to reduce their impact. This knowledge enables them to build resilience in themselves and their families, both in rural areas and cities, through various methods.
Furthermore, they also pass on these lessons to their children who will grow up to be adults and be responsible for the future of the country. This is an effective way to promote DRE that takes into account the long-term perspective of the generation to come.
Unlike in countries with strict firearm laws, which have been the site of many violent incidents targeting schools and students, most cases of violence directed at Japanese schools involve knives. In addition, there have been a few instances of intruders who posed a threat to schools and students. At these sites, staff trained in the use of sasumata and other tools were able to subdue them.
In addition, the government has established a structure under which local education officials and local governments cooperate to create educational materials suited to each community. This includes creating hazard maps and identifying potentially dangerous areas in each city.
In South Korea, schools are required to subscribe to the “School Safety Guarantee Association,” which offers insurance against accidents to students and school staff if they are injured in a school-related activity. This insurance program is compulsory for all kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools as well as educational facilities for lifelong learning.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools implemented various restrictions to maintain social distancing and mitigate risks of virus transmission. These measures include limiting extracurricular activities, implementing remote learning, and changing school locations. These changes in student behavior and school environments can have substantial effects on the occurrence of injuries within the school.
The articles in this special issue explore these impacts on student accidents, ranging from examining the impact of the use of visible security measures to identifying patterns that contribute to injury occurrence. The content of this special issue is important to those in research, policy, and practice, providing valuable insight for identifying vulnerable populations, understanding context-specific risk factors, and developing effective interventions.
The country of South Korea is an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, sharing one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders with North Korea. The land is known for its green, hilly countryside dotted with centuries-old Buddhist temples and coastal fishing villages. Its cities are a bustling hub of commerce, technology, and entertainment. While the majority of the population is ethnically Korean, there are small communities of immigrants from China, Japan, and the United States (including members of the military). This diverse makeup creates a complex sociocultural environment that is critical for understanding and improving school safety protocols. This special issue brings together researchers from different disciplines to offer a holistic view of issues surrounding school safety.
When schools reopen, the conversation must shift to not only addressing academic needs but also student well-being. Many student health and safety concerns, such as bullying, self-harm, or suicide threats, will require larger-scale, complex solutions. In this context, it is important that school leaders and teachers are equipped with the tools they need to tackle these issues and foster a safe and healthy learning environment.
In addition to developing effective tip lines, schools can also use a variety of other tactics to encourage students to report potential threats. For example, one NIJ-funded study examined the impact of an online training program that was developed to train students about threat assessment and increase their willingness to share information with school authorities. The research team designed the training program using a standardized, reliable threat assessment instrument adapted to Turkish. Its validity and reliability were established through an iterative process, including confirmatory factor analysis and a Cronbach alpha test.
Another way to improve school safety is through targeted training for school resource officers (SROs). However, training programs need to be carefully crafted in order to avoid over-dramatizing their role or instilling fear. Surveillance of students’ online activity is intrusive and can disrupt the sense of community that exists within a school. Additionally, active shooter drills can make students feel unsafe at school and may have a negative impact on their mental health.
As Turkey prepares for the return of education, it continues to invest in building disaster-resilient educational infrastructure. It is also partnering with the World Bank to expand access to education for displaced communities, and it has prioritized the development of innovative solutions to enable all children in Turkey to resume their studies by the end of 2020.