The unfortunate and tragic events in American schools in recent years have been cause for concern to parents, teachers and students themselves. And while shootings have grabbed most of the headlines, there are other dangers that can befall our most vulnerable generation before graduation.
But that’s not to say we are helpless. There are many steps parents can take to improve the odds that an attack, an accident or an illness will not happen.
In Chicago, the obvious concerns are the problems of guns, gangs and bullying. No lawyer, judge or politician can unilaterally end these scourges to our educational system and our students. Just as important are strategies that parents, educators and school administrators can follow to make things safer. Here are a few:
- Develop incident reporting systems as well as a transparent means of reporting cumulative data for public consumption. This first step is to develop a solid understanding of the problem.
- Insist that districts and individual schools have crisis plans and drills.
- Provide literature, training and support to teachers on issues such as drugs, weapons, youth suicide, child abuse and school law.
- Observe and promote Safe Schools Week, which is in October. This provides a way to engage everyone in why it matters and the commitment of the school to provide a safe environment throughout the year.
Other, unintentional safety issues exist in the school experience as well. On playgrounds, more than 200,000 children under age 14 are injured and require emergency treatment every year in the U.S. Preventive measures include ensuring that equipment is well maintained and that ground surfaces are soft. School staff, including and especially nurses, should be particularly attuned to symptoms of concussion.
The journey to school also needs to be safe. A trend toward driving children in cars to their school may be an overzealous response and is attributed by some as a contributor to childhood obesity. If at all possible, parents can escort their children by bike or on foot and when the child is ready, allow them to walk alone if neighborhood conditions allow. Chicago’s Safe Passage program has largely been hailed a success (where it is available); Walking School Bus programs, led by a parent volunteer, are successful in many municipalities.
In almost all instances, parental involvement is a fundamental component of ensuring safer schools. Attorneys might be able to lend assistance if laws are being broken, but a community cooperative of responsible people can accomplish very much in prevention.