As so many parents across the U.S. wrestle with the pain and shock of another tragic school shooting, there is a struggle that still exists in our society when it comes to our reactions to these incidents. The mentality of “it won’t happen here” endures, particularly in Vermont, where we are lulled into a false sense of safety and security because some communities and neighborhoods don’t lock their doors at night or our nightly news is typically focused on political maneuverings or farming stories rather than how many rapes, murders, and drugs busts happened in one day. Well, here’s the reality. Parkland, Florida didn’t think it would happen to them either because they were named Florida’s safest city last year. Now they’ve experienced the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history with 17 lives lost and an undetermined number of others injured.
As parents, what can we do? How can we ensure that our schools are the safest they can be for our children? Believe it or not, you are your child’s best advocate when it comes to school safety. Here are some important questions you can ask your school principal or superintendent, and you have the right to receive answers. Please note, some of this information a school or district may not be required to publish on a website because it could lead to safety concerns for the school community, but you as a parent have the right to know this information if you ask.
- Do you have an emergency operations plan (EOP)? If my child has a disability or Access or Functional Needs, what plans have been made to accommodate them in the EOP?
- If yes (to question 1), how often is your staff trained on the EOP, including evacuation routes?
- In case of an incident, who is in charge? Ask for names, titles, and responsibilities.
- Ask what the evacuation sites are for your school and if the agreements with those sites are up -to-date.
- In addition to lockdown drills, how often does your school drill their evacuation routes to the evacuation sites? This should happen at least once per year.
- In the event of an evacuation, how would the school notify you? What is the protocol?
- What is the school’s reunification plan if children are evacuated? This should be documented by the school and/or district.
- Does the school have a threat assessment or behavioral intervention team? Who is on the team? How often do they meet and how often are they trained?
- Ask for a list of definitions to commonly used terms and how the school uses them: lockdown, lockout, shelter-in-place, building evacuation, etc.
- Ask how the relationship works between local police and the school incident command team. Once the police arrive, who is in charge?
You may find you have additional questions as you start the conversation and that’s okay. Starting the conversation is the first step to understanding more about school safety and where we are as a district. This also helps to identify weaknesses. Schools are still statistically one of the safest places for our children, but preparedness is key to making certain we are ready for the unexpected.
- Addressing Access and Functional Needs (AFN) in School and Higher Education Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs)