Your school does active shooter drills, but when was the last time you did a non-custodial parent drill?
We have seen countless numbers of active shooter drills and exercises conducted since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings less than two years ago. Police tactical teams have worked with school principals and superintendents to fine tune building access for first responders, update floor plans and learn how arriving officers will rapidly deploy to neutralize an active shooter. We have even seen some of the more ridiculous fads such as schools arming teachers, teaching teachers to attack heavily armed gunmen, or telling students to throw cans of soup at active shooters.
High-profile cases of non-custodial parents removing children from school capture public attention
What are seeing much less of, unfortunately, is a focus on testing well-established best practices in school security that focus on threats that are much more likely to occur on a day-to-day basis. For example, while protecting against a Sandy Hook-like attack from an outside threat is one legitimate concern, the vast majority of elementary school principals in this country worry much more about the greater likelihood of the threats from a non-custodial parent attempting to remove without authorization a child from their school.
Just look at a few higher-profile incidents of recent years of elementary students being removed from school by someone other than an authorized custodial parent include:
- A federal jury in California awarded a father more than $2 million in October of 2013 after holding the Escondido Union School District responsible for allowing his 9-year-old son to be released from elementary school to the boyfriend of his mother, who had been deported. The boy was kidnapped and believed to have been taken out of the country. The boy had been living in the U.S. with his father.
- A 21-year-old woman is on trial for allegedly abducting a 5-year-old girl from her school in Philadelphia last year.
- A 6-year-old Tennessee girl who was taken from her elementary school by her non-custodial mother was recovered in Mississippi last week.
Focus on testing school security best practices for more likely safety threats
It is important for schools to have clear policies and procedures and to have staff consistently follow those procedures which exist in writing. Schools should train their staff on these practices. Strong communication practices among adults responsible for students experiencing custody issues are also important.
The good news is that in general, our school office support staff, principals and teachers do an amazing job in documenting, tracking and communicating on student custody issues. We have met school secretaries with amazing recall abilities who appear to know almost every child custody situation in their school and/or where to quickly find out those details.
Many schools are spending an enormous amount of time and energy, and in some cases performing over-the-top questionable exercises, on active shooter drills. It’s time for school leaders to spend some of that time and energy on non-custodial parent exercises so their staff can stay sharp on these much more likely to occur school safety threats.
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