Why voluminous school emergency/crisis templates are setting up school leaders for disaster – and why the absence of engaged school emergency/crisis teams is inexcusable

Posted by on January 20, 2024

The U.S. Department of Justice review of the Uvalde school shooting observed that, “UCISD’s campus safety teams met infrequently, and annual safety plans were based largely on templated information that was, at times, inaccurate.” (See https://portal.cops.usdoj.gov/resourcecenter/content.ashx/cops-r1141-pub.pdf )

The template approach to school safety is failing school leaders and school security officials. Filling in the blanks on school emergency plan templates provided by well-intended state agencies or education associations has resulted in plans we review in our assessment consultations being in excessive of 80 to 100 pages. Educators typically spend more time filling in the blanks and chasing signatures on the forms than they do training school staff on the content of the plans.

Voluminous school emergency templates serve attorneys, not school staff. Less can be more in school emergency guidelines for frontline staff.

We have yet to find anyone in school districts where we conduct assessments who know all the contents of these templated plans. The bulky plans at best stand to best serve one category of people:  Plaintiff attorneys who file school safety lawsuits against schools. But in recent years the number of pages in the plans keep getting bigger and bigger.

Research and experience increasingly suggest that less is more. Contrary to what many school administrators believe to be true, much of these templates are not required by state law. Often only a handful or two of the contents are required by law and the rest of the templates are the result of well-intended individuals from agencies who throw the kitchen sink into the templates in the spirit of being “helpful” to local school leaders.

We generally encourage school administrators to provide no more than a couple pages of key guidelines to frontline staff. School leaders and their emergency/crisis teams can manage the bigger documents, but the plans need to be tailored to their schools and these teams more familiar with their contents.

School emergency/crisis teams must exist more than only on paper

We are also finding that schools are going backwards in terms of following best practices of having school site and district emergency/crisis teams and making sure these teams meet.  We are more often finding teams named on paper that have never met. In too many instances, we are finding that schools have no formal team at all.

Teams do not need to meet every month, but they should meet at the beginning of the school year and early in the second semester of the school year.  If issues arise or schools want to meet more often, that is fine, but they need to meet.  When they do meet, have an agenda and record minutes of the meetings.

It’s not about money or products.  It’s about people and leadership.

These best practices were established in the Columbine High School era decades ago.  It is unclear when or why this information was not engrained and passed along in the institutional knowledge of educational leaders, but there is no excuse for not knowing that they exist.  It does not take a lot of research to locate and learn them.

It does, however, require leadership.  School administrators must be strategic school safety leaders and communicators. The heat is turning up on administrators for accountability when those in charge choose not to lead on school safety.

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  

National School Safety and Security Services

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