The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to reflect on the prior year and ponder what the next year may bring. As in our personal lives, professional observations may vary and forecasts will often not pan out. But looking from the lens of others can add perspective and depth to our views of what may be ahead as we move forward.
Areas on my radar for school safety, security and emergency preparedness in 2024 include but are not limited to:
- School leaders will feel intensified pressures and face tough decisions about potential school safety budget cuts as ESSER and other COVID-pandemic money runs out. What will be cut if pandemic funds used for social, emotional, mental health, security, and related school safety programs are exhausted? Will — or even can — schools absorb these into their operating budgets? What will they keep and what will be cut? And how will school leaders communicate this to their school community?
- As school leaders face tightening budgets, security hardware, product, and tech vendors will target school leaders with intensified sales efforts to make last-minute grabs of remaining pandemic relief funds, while simultaneously lobbying for new funding streams such as grants from state and federal government legislatures and administrations. Some vendors will fade away from school markets as many, if not most, schools will not pick up these costs out of their operating budgets.
- Behavioral, discipline, and violence challenges will continue to grow and likely will increase, especially if social, emotional, mental health, and security programs and budgets are cut.
- Schools will continue to be targets of increasing cybersecurity threats. The need for more sophisticated cybersecurity in schools will quickly become clearer to educators who face budget and talent constraints for preventing and managing cybersecurity threats.
- Swatting threats will continue to strike schools, causing increased “threat fatigue” that in turn heightens the risk for increased complacency when threats occur.
- Schools that purchased weapons detectors/metal detectors in recent years will experience incidents where guns, knives, and potentially other weapons still get into schools. Administrators and school boards will face tough questions from parents, teachers, students, and the media as to whether and how these systems were defeated. Trust of school administrators and security officials on school safety leadership credibility will be challenged accordingly.
- School administrators will increasing recognize the importance of the “people” aspect of school safety and the need to invest in training. Time constraints will continue to be a big obstacle for implementing meaningful training, forcing school boards and administrators to exercise stronger leadership in making training a priority and making sure it happens without excuses. Schools will continue to face increased challenges in courts of law and courts of public opinion on alleged failures of human factors — people, training, policies, procedures, communications, etc. — when incidents occur.
- School leaders will search for new thought leadership to support their efforts to be more strategic school safety leaders, pivoting from dwelling on past tragedies and single-incident experts’ advice while in search of guidance on how to best become forward-focused strategic school safety leaders. Critical thinking will be crucial to tackling existing and emerging school security challenges. Strong and skilled leadership and communication skills will be needed — and they will be tested.
- School leaders will need more support in cutting through the noise and focusing on fundamental, evidence-based best practices in school safety while vendors and other special interests simultaneously create and market their own self-defined school safety “standards” (largely created by vendors, not educators) to sway unknowing educators in the direction of buying their security products, hardware, and technology. These challenges will be exacerbated by well-intended, but often not well-thought-out, legislated mandates which typically originate from state legislatures and governors. These mandartes are often underfunded or unfunded and put school boards and administrators in tight — if not impossible — binds for meaningful implementation.
- School leaders will continue to face “new times, new crimes” and other school safety threats outside the parameters of the typical and historical threats to school security. More “unknown unknowns” threats, security risks from international wars and terrorism, and other threats will force school administrators and safety officials to develop prevention, threat assessment and management, mitigation, intervention, training, recovery, communication, and related plans for these new — and often unpredictable — school security threats.
This list could continue, but the good news is that educators and their school safety partners have a history of pulling through challenging times. They genuinely care about the safety of students, teachers, support staff, and their school communities. Getting out front of these challenges will depend upon a shift from being reactive to proactive, critical thinking strategic school safety leaders.
Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services
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