End of School Year Vigilance

With everything else on educators’ plates right now, we need to remind ourselves to practice end of school year vigilance. The spring months typically have the highest number of school violence incidents, and we have seen an increase in school threats over the past few weeks. While many are transient with no substantial plan, we must evaluate each one to ensure safety.

What to watch for

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, you can refresh your memory with this list of warning signs.

We also want to watch for students who may dread the summer months and loss of structure and support that school provides. Unfortunately, the spring and summer months are also host to a high number of suicides. If you’d like to send some information out to parents along with other end-of-year correspondence, here are two options for you: warning signs of suicide and tips for parents.

If you find yourself with some free time, and are yearning to learn something new this summer, Youth Risk Prevention Specialists offers a free online school safety course that takes about 20 minutes to complete. A longer, more in-depth course is available for just $15, and takes about 2 hours to complete.

I want to thank you for all you do to help keep kids safe throughout the school year. I wish you an amazing, relaxing summer.

School Safety on Election Day


The 2016 election is coming up in just two weeks, and many of your facilities will be used as polling places. Have you considered how you will secure them? While I can’t help get your preferred candidate into office, I can help with a few safety suggestions. Here are some things to consider:

Will workers, volunteers, and voters be restricted to accessing only certain areas of the building, unoccupied by students?

Are restrooms available near the polling area to keep visitors from requesting access to other parts of the building?

Will you or your local government provide additional security on election day?

What types of background checks will election workers and volunteers complete?

Will voters have a designated parking area, separate from parent, staff and student parking and away from student drop-off and pick-up?

Do your surveillance cameras cover the area to be used for polling? Will someone monitor them regularly?

If your school will be in session on election day, and it is a designated polling place, planning ahead will alleviate a lot of potential headaches on November 8.

Survey Update:

You may recall that I recently requested input from readers about safety challenges and needs. My objective was to learn about the areas of safety that concern you most, so I can focus future articles on them.

I regret to say that I received too few responses to provide any meaningful direction. So, moving forward, please feel free to contact me at any time with requests for posts on specific school safety topics. If you are wondering about the best way to handle something, chances are good that someone else is, too.


Your Top School Safety Needs

I want to hear from you!

Here’s your chance to help other schools, by telling me about your school’s safety success and challenges. It will take less than 2 minutes to complete the survey, and your input will provide ideas and answers for all of my readers. My goal is to help facilitate school safety improvements for everyone in an informed, efficient manner. If there are topics about which you’d like more information, let me know and I’ll devote future posts to them.


The survey link will be active until Friday, October 14.

Look for results next week!

Please feel free to share this email and survey link with others.


School Safety Mandates

Each state in the U.S. has a variety of school safety mandates in place. Are you familiar with the safety requirements of your state?

This is important information that can help protect your school district from a liability lawsuit in the event that an accident, injury or death were to occur. Providing documentation of compliance with all safety mandates will protect you enormously.

To help you with this, the REMS (Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools) Technical Assistance Center has created this simple tool that takes only seconds to use. I encourage you to take a moment right now to click on your state and review whether your district is in compliance. It could save you a lot of time and trouble down the road.

If you need help with any aspect of meeting school safety mandates, I’m happy to offer pointers. Feel free to contact me here.

Exciting News for Schools

Special Announcement-2

Exciting announcement for you and your school district!

In response to requests from schools across the country, I have developed a safety tool with enormous benefits for your school.

You can now train your entire staff on your schedule, at a fraction of the cost of in-person training, while getting the very same content provided on-site to schools nationwide.

To enjoy special early-bird savings, with access to the training for one full year, simply click on the link below for your preferred plan:


Small Group (25-50)

Medium Group (51-100)

Large Group (101+)

These savings won’t last, so register your team today!

Free Online School Safety Course

The free online school safety course, SafeAware© Increase Your School’s Safety in 5 Easy Steps is now open for registration! This course will take you through 5 easy-to-implement strategies to significantly improve your school’s safety in just one day. The course takes less than 30 minutes to complete and includes downloadable handouts and links to additional resources. You can access it here.

Later this year, I’ll be launching these additional SafeAware© school safety courses:

  • Everyday School Safety for All Staff
  • School Crisis & Safety Plan Development
  • Youth Suicide Prevention
  • Suicide & Violence Prevention for Parents
  • Training Students to Break the Code of Silence
  • Introduction to Violence Threat Assessment

If there are specific topics you’d like to see offered in future courses, I’d love to hear from you. Simply contact me here with your suggestions.

Have a fantastic summer!

An Interview with: Michele Gay

Michele GayMichele Gay is the Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. Together, she and Alissa Parker founded Safe and Sound Schools to educate parents and school staff members about the most effective safety practices, in a format that is both easily understandable and immediately usable. Michele and Alissa work jointly with experts in the field of school safety to continually curate information and update the free resources and tools on the organization’s website at http://www.safeandsoundschools.org. They speak to school safety stakeholders around the country about their experiences, and the simple changes schools can implement to create safer environments. Both Michele and Alissa are dedicated to advocating for greater school safety in honor of their beloved daughters, Josephine and Emilie, who died tragically in the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Michele sat down to talk with me about the amazing work and mission of Safe and Sound Schools.

Michele, how would you describe your role within Safe and Sounds Schools?

My official title is Executive Director. With a brand new nonprofit, that means I wear all sorts of hats. I work with our contributors, select resources for the website and make them usable in a practical way, speak with communities across the country and provide training for school leaders and stakeholders on our Straight-A Safety model and the ways in which they can make their schools safer.

What were the initial goals for Safe and Sound Schools?

Our initial goals were to synthesize the best practices in school safety and boil them down for the everyday user. They need to be formatted so any stakeholder – parent, teacher, custodian, bus driver – can pick them up and understand them. They must to be easy to use because all of these people are already wearing many hats. I find that I’m using my experience as a pre-school and elementary school teacher to help me simplify all of these concepts so others can easily learn them.

What kind of movement toward those goals have you seen since the organization was created?

We have grown, and will continue to grow. We started out sharing our experiences as keynote speakers and recently began providing on-site training for communities on how they can implement safety improvement practices in their schools. We have some wonderful contributors who are school safety and subject-matter experts in their fields. When we originally reached out to them we weren’t sure whether they would want to be involved. Their response was overwhelming. We have learned so much from our team of advisors and contributors that we can pass on to others. We learn from each community we visit and it charges us up to see that there are people out there who get it, and are working really hard to bring practical solutions to the forefront.

How many people are involved with the organization, both staff and volunteers?

There are 8 volunteer board members and 4 part-time staff members, plus myself. We have a team of 15 advisors and professional contributors that includes firefighters, psychologists, school resource officers, police, education specialists, and school safety experts.

Do you have an estimate of the number of schools that have made changes as a result of your organization’s mission and outreach?

I would love to have that information! Our new website is going to have the capability to track the number of people who download our materials, so that will help. But, of course, it’s not easy to learn how they’ve been used or shared. I have done 25 speaking engagements each year and will continue to do those, along with the new training. Alissa also serves as a keynote speaker, addressing state and local communities. And, we are now launching a speakers’ bureau of subject matter experts to help us keep up. We are very excited about this.

What have you found to be the greatest challenges in your work with school safety?

So many other issues and conversations happen in our society and schools, that safety sometimes gets overshadowed. We are working hard to educate people about the ways in which school safety is do-able. The growth in this area is slow and steady. We are still working to educate about what school safety actually is. It’s more than physical security and bars on windows. Many things can be done by anyone to improve school safety. This is also an emotional subject, and once we go to an emotional place, we can lose our ability to think practically. Our response is to provide practical tools that are easy to implement.

 Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

I would like your readers to know that we are a work in progress and we will continue to grow. We provide safety resources, we visit communities to share what we know, and we learn from others. This helps to connect us, and connecting us all makes us just that much more powerful. Everything on the website is free and will stay that way. You can help educate other parents and educators by sharing our resources, liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter and signing up for newsletters and notifications on our website.

I want to express my sincere appreciation for Michele’s time and dedication. Most importantly, I want to thank both Michele and Alissa for their work as tireless school safety educators and advocates. For a closer look at the compelling forces behind Safe and Sound Schools and its mission to help everyday folks implement the simple safety practices advocated by experts, please watch this brief video interview with Michele and Bob Gay and Alissa and Robbie Parker. Be sure to check out all of the amazing resources at http://www.safeandsoundschools.org/more-resources-safety-for-schools/.

What Type of Administrator Are You?


Administrators: What's Your Type?

I come across many different types of administrators in my work with schools. Each is unique in the way he or she approaches school safety. I think we can learn something from every one of them.

What type of administrator are you?

  1. One type of administrator worries about being adequately prepared, but isn’t sure what steps to take to augment the district’s current safety plan. She is also worried about the cost of improving physical safety and training staff and students. This type of administrator would like to do more, but isn’t sure where to start.
  2. One type of administrator attends conferences and reads a lot about school safety. He worries about school safety and makes improvements where possible but isn’t sure the district has a cohesive and comprehensive plan. This administrator wonders whether piecing together various components adequately addresses school safety.
  3. One type of administrator considers the time savings in adopting a school safety or crisis response plan from another district or consortium. While administration has the best of  intentions, everyone is busy and no one has had time to personalize the plan yet. Many staff members have not read it in detail. This administrator worries about exposure to a potential lawsuit should an emergency occur in his or her district.
  4. One type of administrator takes school safety very seriously but does not have the time to invest in it herself. She assigns the tasks to other staff members and trusts that they are doing a good job with it. They very likely are doing a good job, but this administrator could be caught off-guard if something happens and she comes under fire for not knowing the ins and outs of the district safety plan.
  5. One type of administrator understands that he needs to do everything possible to keep the school community safe and that safety is not his area of expertise. This administrator trusts a professional safety consultant to review the district’s current safety status and assist with filling any gaps. This administrator sleeps well at night, knowing he has done everything that can be done to protect those in his care. Should something happen in his district, this type of administrator will likely be held up as an example of an outstanding, caring and prepared leader whose foresight has saved lives.

If you value the types of things discussed in this post, you’re the type of administrator for whom I write this blog and the type of person with whom I work best. To learn how I can help your district significantly improve its level of safety, contact me to arrange a no-cost no-obligation consultation.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

School Security post incident report

My last post detailed what we learned about threat assessment from the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting of 17-year old Claire Davis. As stated previously, I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts, as we all face challenges when it comes to putting the best safety practices in place (or even knowing what they are, as this field is constantly evolving).

The report, produced by Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, was based on the findings of 11 experienced analysts. It cites a number of properly implemented safety practices at both Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton Public School District. It also details areas of school security that warrant attention. For the purpose of learning and further enhancing the safety of all schools, this post will address those safety practices that we need to implement in our own districts. Failure to do so can expose us to danger and liability.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

  • A more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack. Best practice dictates investigating, interviewing the student about threats made, and gathering additional information from parents and others who interact with the person of concern.
  • The attacker’s mother did not report her son’s threats to kill a female student to the school administrators, deputy, or her son’s mental health providers. Educating parents about warning signs and the process of reporting concerns can help prevent this from occurring.
  • Although the school had extensively promoted its Safe2Tell hotline, no student or staff member reported the shooter’s threats to it, despite multiple students having concerns about his behavior. A student later reported that he did not call the Safe2Tell line because he did not realize that the attacker was a danger. This is consistent with one of the reasons students don’t report concerns as identified by the 2008 Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education Bystander Study. It is critical to provide student training that clarifies reportable concerns and reporting procedures.
  • The Arapahoe High School campus was left unsupervised during lunchtime on the day of the shooting because all school safety and security personnel ate lunch at the same time, clustered in two groups. It is recommended that lunch times be staggered so security is monitored at all times, and that school security staff be supervised by a qualified district-level security director.
  • The attacker entered the school through an unsecured door that should have been locked. The door was propped open about once a week despite staff and students having been instructed repeatedly not to prop doors open.
  • There is no record of the school having a security assessment conducted by an outside team. It is recommended that such an evaluation be conducted every 3-5 years.
  • The many policies, guidelines and procedures regarding school security and safety may have overwhelmed administrators in light of their other important responsibilities. This is not at all unusual and underscores a need for districts to carve out adequate time dedicated to training, discussion, rehearsal, and review of safety plans and protocols.
  • The security camera system in place at the time of the shooting was in need of improvement and updating. It is recommended that security equipment maintenance be assigned to specific staff positions and occur on an ongoing basis.
  • Confusion around the “lockout/lockdown” protocol activated on the day of the attack resulted in a number of classroom doors not being locked in areas where gunfire could not be heard. According to Michael Dorn, this type of protocol has resulted in a “high fail rate” during simulations. It should be noted, however, that Littleton Public Schools “met or exceeded the normal standard of care for school-level emergency drills at the time of the incident.”

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.

Arapahoe report teaches about threat assessment


Unfortunately, we often learn the most about how to improve our own levels of school safety by studying tragic incidents that have devastated lives. I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts. We all do the best we can with limited resources, knowledge, and power to implement change.

I do want to reflect for a moment on the recently released report regarding the 2013 Arapahoe High School fatal shooting of 17-year-old student Claire Davis, only because of what we can learn. The field of school safety is continually evolving. We are learning and improving every day.

The Arapahoe report teaches us about threat assessment

The report’s author, Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, found that many effective school safety practices were in place at Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton School District. In addition, 11 analysts cited the following concerns that leave room for improvement in the area of threat assessment:

  • A systematic, “integrated systems approach” that involves collaboration with public safety partners to assess and make decisions regarding potential threats, was not in place at the time of the incident. It’s important to define roles and keep MOU’s (Memoranda of Understanding) between agencies on file in the school district.
  •  The threat assessment process used prior to the shooting focused more on establishing evidence that the student of concern “made” a threat rather than on assessing whether he or she posed a threat.
  • There was no defined multidisciplinary threat assessment team at Arapahoe High School at the time of the incident. All threat assessments were conducted by the school psychologist and assistant principal, and it appeared they may not have received adequate training on the threat assessment process.
  • It is unclear whether the team responsible for initiating the threat assessment had the professional knowledge and training needed to determine whether to conduct a threat evaluation of a student of concern. Threat assessment teams must include members of administration, pupil services and law enforcement, and all members should be professionally trained in violence warning signs and threat assessment practices.
  • There is no record that individual schools were provided with adequate resources or direction to train staff on recognizing violence warning signs and the specific actions to take. A district training presentation instructed schools to provide annual staff training on suicide and violence warning signs, but it is unclear whether this was done.
  • District staff may not have properly understood FERPA guidelines for information sharing.
  • There are concerns about decisions around disciplining the attacker after he made threats. School administrators had the option to suspend or expel him, but did not do either. In addition, a more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack.
  • The assessment form listed limited options for police response.
  • The assessment form did not provide a prompt for the threat assessment team to follow up to ensure that recommended safety strategies had been implemented.
  • Some of the procedures on the assessment and action plan forms were not followed.
  • Often, there was no explanation of the rationale for decisions made as part of the assessment.

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.