For a long time now, school environments have been touted as being among the safest and most secure places in society. However, in the recent past, schools have increasingly registered undesirable incidents, which serve to change this notion. Many countries across the world have witnessed bizarre occurrences within or near school premises, which have left traumatic memories deeply etched in the minds of the populace.
Therefore, safety in school environments can no longer be taken for granted and as such, stakeholders in the education sector have been compelled to place school safety and security issues among their priorities. In light of this understanding, this paper seeks to examine the issue of safety in elementary schools with an emphasis on how to achieve and maintain it.
Overview of Safety
It is important to have a clear concept of safety coupled with how it is applicable to a school environment prior to deliberating on the issue. Safety is defined as a state of reduced vulnerability to harm of any nature. This definition touches on emotional, physical, spiritual, educational harm, and so forth.
Therefore, in a school environment, a state of safety is achieved when exposure to any of these forms of risk is minimized to the least practically achievable levels. Although it is desirable to reduce vulnerability to risk to a zero level, it is unfortunate that this safety level is not achievable. It then follows that ensuring safety translates to bringing risk to acceptable levels as prescribed within a given field.
Safety in Schools
Achieving safety in a school environment should be a primary concern for any school administration, but often eludes those who seek to achieve it. This scenario happens when well-meant effort and resources are channeled to areas of physical safety such as alarms, fences, and locks, but leaves out fundamental areas such as a safe social environment for students.
School safety calls for a proactive approach by the school leadership, which implies that the school administration should first conduct a comprehensive analysis of the safety situation in and around the school to determine the safety hazards and deal with them decisively.
School environments often exhibit similar safety hazards except in some isolated cases. A school safety plan should cater for all possibilities to reduce the chances of circumventing it by ill-minded individuals.
Some of the most common safety hazards in school environments include thefts, physical fights, exposure to illegal drugs, bullying, and several other non-violent crimes. In rare cases, there have been incidents of baneful crimes in schools such as shootings or arson where both students and staff are affected. Although such cases are isolated, a vigilant safety plan should cater for such occurrences and cover both staff and students.
The first step towards ensuring a safe school environment is to ensure that the school leadership is totally committed to ensuring safety because this undertaking requires a lot of input from the entire school fraternity. The school should develop comprehensive policies that guide the entire safety plan by seeking input from all the concerned people.
Once developed, such policies should be pinned in places, which are open and accessible by all and need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain relevant. The school administration should provide room for consultation with both staff and students to adjust them as necessary, which can be done with the help of leaders who are appointed and charged with the responsibility of managing safety matters in the school.
Demonstration of commitment is only step one of putting in place a safety plan. After that, the leadership should proceed by engaging the school community in assessing the school environment and identifying all hazards and any other necessary information concerning the hazards.
There are several ways of doing this assessment, for instance carrying out physical hazard inspection walks and hazard surveys from staff and students among others. Once established, a comprehensive list of hazards in a school environment serves to give an idea of the resources that may be required to build a safe school environment. The hazards should then be classified based on their level of risk so that when dealing with them, priority is given to those that pose the greatest risk.
The next move after compiling a list of hazards is developing and implementing an action plan, which takes care of all the hazards based on the severity of the risk posed. The staff should be closely involved in all these processes as they normally have vital insights into ways of dealing with the risk posed by the safety hazards in the school.
The best approach to this step is to eliminate all the hazards identified or maximally reduce the risk in cases where hazards cannot be eliminated. This step may require a lot of input in a variety of approaches to achieve it. This requirement might call for training of staff in some areas of safety, implementing attitude, and behavior change programs for students and conducting awareness campaigns for the entire school community.
This assertion implies that some measures can be implemented right away, but some may need budget allocations to be implemented. However, the school leadership should remain committed to implementing all the measures since leaving out some may jeopardize the entire exercise. This part of the process also needs the leadership to assign responsibility to well informed or trained individuals to champion the process to successful completion.
The final step in ensuring a safe school environment is to assemble machinery to evaluate and monitor the process to ensure that there is no slackness at any point to the end. The importance of the monitoring and evaluation phase is vested in the fact that long-term interventions are closely monitored to the very end. In addition, a safety program once up and running has to continue to offer sustained safety to students and staff.
Some of the indicators that may show the extent of success of the safety program include the number of staff trained in safety issues, the level injuries, near misses, and drug related cases reported. The monitoring and evaluation team has to remain in place as long as the program runs to review it and make recommendations whenever necessary. This step is important as it can serve to improve the program and tighten measures, thus delivering improved safety continuously for the benefit of staff and students.
School safety has emerged as everyone’s concern starting from the authorities and school administration all the way to the students and their parents, as a secure and safe school environment is a prerequisite to any meaningful learning and development for the students.
Some of the measures required to ensure safety in schools are expensive, but the importance of safety overrides such costs and makes it a worthwhile undertaking. The goodwill of all stakeholders in implementing a safety program is the most important ingredient to ensure its success and if harnessed well, schools shall be safe.