In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, people across the country are asking if schools in their communities are safe. School psychologists not only play a pivotal role in answering that question, but they can also provide leadership in helping to ensure a safe school climate. A critical component to answering the safety question is finding a balance of both physical and psychological safety measures. A reliance solely on metal detectors, x-ray machines, and cameras underestimates what is needed for schools to be safe and can miss undercurrents negatively impacting school safety. However, a reliance solely on the attitude of "my school feels safe" can miss critical safety measures needed to limit accessibility and opportunity. Thus, both physical and psychological safety are critical to a comprehensive safe-school approach.
The information in this article was developed from the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention Training Curriculum. The reader is referred to additional resources at the end of this article for a broader consideration of this topic.
PHYSICAL SAFETY MEASURES
Below are some areas to consider when answering the school safety question from a physical safety standpoint.
Naturalaccess control Schools must have systems in place to monitor who comes in and out of the school building and has access throughout the school. All exterior doors should be closed and locked during school hours. There should be only one access point into the building for visitors and it should provide easy access into the visitor screening area of the building. If the entrance where visitors enter is open during school hours, school staff or the school resource officer should monitor it. In addition, all areas inside of the school building (e.g., classrooms, gymnasiums, locker rooms, utility/custodial closets, offices) should be locked if no one is in those areas.
Natural surveillance. Schools must monitor visitor, staff, and student activities that occur inside and outside of the school building. All visitors should be screened and provided a visitor ID, with the visitor ID badge being returned before the visitor leaves. Remember, your visitor screening procedures are only as effective as the consistency with which they are implemented. All staff should wear a staff ID and if they see someone in the building without a staff or visitor ID, that person should be escorted to the main office. Natural surveillance also includes having cameras, metal detectors, x-ray machines, and school resource officers to monitor individuals as they are entering and moving around the building.
PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY MEASURES
Below are some areas to consider when answering the school safety question from a psychological safety standpoint.
Positive school environment. When a school has a friendly and a positive environment, students are more inclined to behave in school and to not have disciplinary problems. Developing a positive behavior support system establishes the foundation for a positive school environment. This leads to increased student-school-teacher connectedness, which has been shown to be correlated with increased academic achievement, and establishes a culture of trust so students and adults communicate concerns to school leadership.
Territoriality. When students and staff feel connected to school, they gain a sense that the school is their school. They gain a sense of pride and they do not want others harming the school. Students who have a sense of territoriality are more likely to monitor each other's behavior and to report student misbehavior to adults in the building. Schools can have murals, student artwork, and posters promoting school-wide expectations around the building to promote a sense of territoriality. A confidential reporting system is also critical to ensuring anonymity when reporting and helping to break the code of silence.