Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Safe Schools, as Seen by School Counselors

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

During the week of March 18, counselors on two social media chatrooms were invited to participate in an online round-table discussion on school safety. Participants were given a link to respond to four questions on school safety, where their remarks were based on the practices that are part of their current institution.

Over 300 counselors participated from across the country. A summary of their responses is below.

One of the many aspects of a safe school is the atmosphere of the school that fosters sound mental health.  What programs, products, or services does your school utilize to build a strong atmosphere of mental health?

Responses here focused on specific programs (OK2Say, Be Nice, Positive Behavior Support, MindPeace, Peer Mentoring, After-School Groups) as well as partnerships with local community health resources. Many schools address this topic through a Life Skills class, while others identified the support offered by school counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

Another aspect that promotes safe schools are physical arrangements that are thought to avoid threats to a school's well-being (this would include door guards, doors that lock on the inside of the room, and metal detectors).  What updates or changes have you made to your building's physical plant to protect against a threat before it happens?

The most common response here was updated doors that lock from the inside. A distant second was video cameras, creating a single point of entry for the building. Motion sensors, upgraded front door security, and metal detectors. It should be noted that a significant number of responses indicated no updates had been made for years, and respondents felt at risk in their buildings as a result.

Some schools have made changes to their building's physical plant that are designed to
protect members of the school community once a threat is in progress (this would include safe rooms, communication networks, etc).  What procedures, products, or changes in policy have your school made to address this issue?

The most frequent response to this question, by far, was “nothing”, and more than one respondent indicated concern with this lack of action. Other responses included ALICE training, text message plans, PA/Intercom communication, panic buttons in each room, Safe Room strategies, and practice drills.

If there was just one thing the US Department of Education should do to support safe schools, what would that be, and why should the Department do this?

Respondents clearly felt more funding for mental health professionals was the first priority. This was followed by funding for smaller class sizes, improved gun laws, and funding for improvements to physical safety, including money for more security personnel. More than a few respondents urged the Department not to allow teachers to be armed.
Out of all of the responses, the one that clearly troubled most counselors was how little was being done at their particular school to advance safety efforts. It should come as no surprise that school counselors think one of the keys to safer schools is to hire more counselors; but the number of counselors who expressed genuine fear that their schools were carrying on like it was business as usual for the last several years was very compelling.

With state legislatures reviewing plans on making safer schools, now is the time for a quick phone call or email to your state or regional ASCA and NACAC affiliate, asking them what they are doing to promote school safety in your state, and how you can help. Yes, we’re all busy; unfortunately, we need to get busier.

1 comment:

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