Back to school safety is a complicated topic. Especially considering recent global news: Australia was on fire, COVID-19 became a pandemic, protests erupted across the US, and more. These things are proof that safety continues to become even more complicated everyday.
But, at the end of the day, children are our future and we need to protect them. But what steps can you take to make sure your school is safe for next school year?
According to schoolsafety.gov, there are three steps to a safe school:
- Protection and Mitigation
- Response and Recover.
We’re going to use, for example, a COVID-19 outbreak in a school.
What steps can you take today to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 (or another virus) in your school?
- Prepare for possible viral emergencies
- Work on distance learning
- Discourage perfect attendance and encourage staying home when sick
Preparing for a possible viral emergency
For a COVID-19 (or other viral) outbreak, that would include preparing for distance learning and sanitation.
Have a plan for how ‘bad’ things have to get for you to close your school.
- How many cases of a virus mean you have to close your school?
- How long will you stay closed?
Keep in contact with healthcare officials
Keep in contact with your district and other schools in your area
How will you handle siblings where one member of the family has a viral illness? Will they all need to stay home? What about your staff when they have a family member who’s sick?
Have practice distance learning days
COVID-19 showed us all how many gaps there are in a mixed learning style. Albeit, I have to say, it was rather heroic how teacher’s took their lessons online in such a short period of time with barely any instruction.
However, practice makes perfect. Having a few distance learning days a month will help your staff, students, and family communities to prepare for an emergency. They will also enable you to iron out the wrinkles in your plans.
Discourage perfect attendance
Perfect attendance is an admirable goal, but it’s unrealistic in a society where humans interact so often on a daily basis. If one student gets sick, they can easily pass that illness to other students or staff.
Along those lines, set things up so that children/staff can participate in distance learning when they are sick. That way, they can stay on top of their schoolwork without endangering others.
Protecting and Mitigating for Back to School Safety
How can you protect your school from a viral outbreak?
Practice social distancing during drop off, dismissal, and throughout the day
Dismissal and drop off are particularly complicated aspects of the school day because they involve so many people moving and interacting with each other. Software can help ease this process and enable social distancing and tracking things like temperature.
Revisit your janitorial systems and procedures and make sure they are up to date with what health officials require.
Ventilate properly and often
Proper ventilation of classrooms, offices, and other enclosed spaces on your grounds helps slow the spread of germs.
Alleviating the threat
The first step to reduce the threat of a viral outbreak would be tracking symptoms and doing contact tracing of people who start to show symptoms
That way, you know which students/staff need to stay home and how long they need to stay away.
Responding and Recovering
COVID-19 is changing how millennials and other generations are interacting with the government and companies. We’re aware of who’s handling things well and who’s not. This awareness will change where we shop and the people we support.
Your direct response to a viral outbreak or the threat of one will depend on the severity of the threat, the size of your school, and other factors.
Sources like the CDC recommend vacating school buildings for a day or two to disinfect everything incase of an outbreak. And if more outbreaks occur, you could move to an entirely distance learning based procedures
Recovering from a viral outbreak
Recovering from a viral outbreak will take some time. Distance learning will need to be practiced for at least the length of the viral incubation period. After that, school buildings will need to be sanitized. And depending on the severity of the virus, some daily practices might have to be changed.
The most important step to recover from an emergency is to review everything that happened before, during, and after. You need to assess what aspects of your plans worked and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to note changes for things that didn’t work.
Along those lines, make sure you communicate with every member of your staff. Find out how they and their department handled everything. What they think should be changed and what worked.
Communication and honesty is key to being prepared for any emergency.
What can you do for back to school safety before school starts this fall?
Now, understanding all those things is great. But, it’s currently June, what can you do now to prepare for the coming semesters?
That depends on your role at the school. Research is an effective thing to do during summer break and other in between periods. Particularly, researching the best practices for every aspect of a school day and how to manage different emergencies.
Set up software
There are many companies that work to help schools prepare for back to school safety and to help their operations run smoothly. PikMyKid is one such company that you could check out. They enable you to run an efficient, safe pickup line and manage several other aspects of the school day from a single computer.
Create a viral outbreak plan and add it to your back to school emergency plan
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that no one was really prepared to handle a viral outbreak like that. It’s been decades since we’ve had one that bad and it highlighted many aspects of our society that need to be changed.
When your school isn’t in session, research emergencies and create plans for how your school will handle each emergency. While you’re creating those things, be in contact with other members of your staff to get their input and keep everyone on the same page.
School Resource Officers (SROs) are law enforcement officers from local police departments assigned to schools to connect students with school resources. They handle all the school’s security needs while facilitating student access to all school’s resources.
Background and Qualifications Needed for SROs
Besides ensuring peace of mind for students, staff, parents, and management, School Resource Officers are liaisons, connecting the school with external security and safety organizations.
Three or four decades ago, their job was simple: maintain a visible presence, look for minor crimes like vandalism and theft, and respond to isolated violence, drug, and gang activity related incidences.
Today, the security needs of an average K-12 school have evolved into needing to prevent mass shootings and bomb scares. As such, their role has evolved to investigating bomb threats, preventing abrupt incidences of violence, and watching out for “lone wolf” mass shooters.
Related Article: Our Schools are Less Safe Today than 50 Years Ago
School Resource Officers Need to Meet the Following Qualifications:
- School Resource Officer Certification (over 40 hrs through MDE) or Bachelor’s degree in sociology or equivalent
- Minimum of 2 years in any law enforcement field
- Commissioned as a qualified law enforcement officer
- Ability to work flawlessly with youth
- A wide base of knowledge concerning social issues, criminal justice system, and youths
- Knowledge of state, county, city, and federal laws
- Ability to work effectively and tactfully with others
- Knowledge of how courts work and how to present evidence during court proceedings
- Effective written and oral communication
Annual Earning Potential for a School Resource Officer
The wage potential of an SRO depends on the state where they are working. Below are some resources to see the earning potential in various states across the US.
Zip Recruiter: What is the Average School Resource Officer Salary by State
Career Trend: How Much Money Does a School Resource Officer Make?
Salary Expert: School Resource Officer Salary
When Do Schools Typically Hire SROs?
Recruitment agencies and schools tend to hire School Resource Officers at the end of summer break, between late July and end of August. Some agencies tend to hire a bit early at the start of summer break.
To find out when summer break is for your state or district, check out this website: My School Holidays
Meanwhile, the academic year for K-12 schools in the US lasts for 180 days with Thanksgiving, Christmas, mid-winter, and spring breaks. K-12 schools often close in mid-June and commence at the start of the second week of August.
Common Recruiting Websites for Finding SRO Jobs:
ZipRecruiter – one of the largest web-based recruitment agencies in the United States, links over 20,000 recruits to employers annually.
Lucas Group – This is the third-largest recruitment agency in the United States
Robert Half – a highly reputable security personnel recruitment agency in the United States
Best Practices of a School Resource Officer
Typically, schools hire School Resource Officers on their own. Some SRO’s are regular police officers – a practice that is often objectionable by some parents and community leaders. However, the SRO is bound to adhere to the best practices of the profession regardless of their recruitment.
- SROs should have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the learning institution. The MOU draws a line between disciplinary issues that the school pursues and the role of the SRO: the student’s general security and safety.
- SROs should receive specialized training even if they are already in law enforcement service. Officers should be aware of normal temper flares that characterize adolescent development. They also need to have a grasp on the best ways to address the issues experienced with students, particularly those with special needs
Dos and Don’ts for SROs
- Mingle with students and create rapport
- Ensure that security and safety installations are working properly
- Ward off any safety threats
- Connect with community, youth-service professionals and external security agencies regarding the school’s security
- Have a good working relationship with the school’s teaching and non-teaching staff
Related Article: School Safety is No Joke – A Teacher’s Take
- Take disciplinary actions against students
- Interfere in the school’s disciplinary apparatus
- Target a student unfairly based on race, gender, religious affiliation or in any unlawful way
- Dispense their firearms unnecessarily
3 Steps to Be A Successful School Resource Officer
Build a Professional Relationship with Staff
Staff cooperation is a necessity to complete your responsibilities.
School Resource Officers Need to Engage Students in Their Environments
Mixing with students helps you create rapport and win their trust, two factors that ease intense situations. The expectation you have for teenagers should be different from those you have for adults
Maintain strong LEO relationships
Besides students and school staff, the SRO should also maintain good working relationships with law enforcement officers outside the school
Things Districts Should Know About School Resource Officers
Sometimes, districts have a bigger say on policing decisions in schools under their authority and, there tend to be misunderstandings around the topics of hiring SROs and whether they should carry guns.
- It is the duty of relevant authorities to know who they’re hiring as their SRO
- SRO should be trained to meet the school’s standards and expectations
- The training should entail specific content that has been vetted to be relevant
- An MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) should be signed, outlining the SRO’s specific duties
- Accountability tools such as police body cameras should be available
Related Article: School Security: A Human Layer
Top 12 Qualities of a School Resource Officer
1. Culturally and Socially Sensitive
K-12 schools, like any other school in the US, consisting of students from different cultures and social backgrounds. School Resource Officers should understand a variety of cultural and social backgrounds. This helps them avoid responding to issues in a way that could be interpreted as racially or culturally insensitive
Recently, this has become one of the core qualities the SRO should possess, as concerns rise over racial profiling in community policing.
2. School Resource Officers Need to Possess A Positive Attitude
They should have a positive attitude towards the school community and their own career.
Most School Resource Officers are derived from local police departments while others have experience in law enforcement from elsewhere. One thing unites all of them: many people they meet are illegally peddling drugs or committing a homicide. This can cloud their judgments of everyone else.
Also, law enforcers seldom receive the credit they deserve. Once they leave service, nobody remembers they were there. For this reason, some of them don’t see the point of committing themselves to the profession with the required zeal. If a law enforcement officer holds these thoughts for a long time, they’re less likely to be willing to make a difference or even enjoy their responsibilities.
It becomes hard to be a disciplined enforcer if you don’t have the right attitude. Schools want to work with an SRO who loves their job and who is willing to do anything to keep school staff and students safe.
3. Mingle with and Engage Pre-Teens and Teens
The SRO in K-12 school needs to be able to effortlessly interact with pre-teens and teens and engage them in safety.
Students are often more willing to share with an SRO than with a teacher. Thus, an SRO becomes the best link between students and school management. However, that’s only possible if the SRO is accommodating to young people.
Pre-teens, like anyone else, don’t want to approach an intimidating person. An SRO who gets along with pre-teens and the school’s personnel is likely to meet their responsibilities better than one with no rapport at all.
4. School Resource Officers Need to Have the Ability to Work Independently
The SRO should be able to perform their duties independently and without supervision. Partly because School Resource Officers often don’t have an assistant to back them up. And partly because an independent SRO is more efficient.
A typical K-12 school would employ one SRO to oversee the security needs of the entire institution. When they work independently, they respond faster to emergency situations because they know exactly what to do and don’t need to take orders from anyone.
Law enforcement and outside pressure don’t mix well. The SRO who can perform their duties without being pressured is a valuable resource to the school.
5. Excellent Interpersonal Communication Skills
School Resource Officers must possess interpersonal skills for daily interaction with school personnel and students. Communication skills which include the ability to listen and speak effectively are needed. The SRO should possess non-verbal communication skills and even be able to use American Sign Language. Additionally, they also need to be able to control their emotions in any situation.
There are several reasons why recruitment agencies put more emphasis on communication and interpersonal skills when hiring School Resource Officers. Firstly, a person with this quality is more likely to be emotionally intelligent. Secondly, people with these skills tend to be good in mediation and conflict resolution as well as influencing and persuading others.
6. Understand Child Psychology and Development
This is one of the most important qualities a K-12 school SRO should possess. Pre-teens are children according to the law and from a psychological perspective. This means that they don’t reason like adults. Following this rationale, a school will only want to hire an SRO who understands children and will only approach students as children, not adults.
Child psychology and development studies teach children’s development including physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and psychological milestones. The SRO with certification in this area can be of great value to a K-12 school.
7. Knowledge of School Safety Technologies and Implementation
The increasing confrontation between students and law enforcement officials and the prevalence of mass shootings have pushed schools to implement rigid security and safety policies.
Part of these reforms is the installation of security systems that take advantage of modern technology. Such systems include social media watchers, internet safe kits, anonymous alerts, entry control equipment, visitor management systems, X-Ray machines and metal detectors, panic buttons, surveillance cameras, etc.
The SRO should be knowledgeable of these technologies including their implementation and use. An SRO with certification in policing technologies or the equivalent is skilled enough to use most security safety technologies installed in schools.
Related Article: Spring is the Best Time to Make School Technology Changes
8. Willingness to Work with Parents, Community, and Youth-Serving Professionals
The SRO should be willing to work with the community to ensure students’ security and safety.
In the event of a security emergency, the SRO will be the first person to contact parents and give them situational updates. During a safety breach, community members and parents will talk to the SRO first. For these reasons, the school would want to hire an SRO who is ready to work with all interested stakeholders regarding the student’s safety.
At the same time, the SRO is expected to be able to work with an array of pre-teen and youth-serving professionals on a range of issues regarding the safety and wellbeing of students.
These youth-serving professionals can be
- community leaders dedicated to such issues as drug abuse and gang activity
- councilors dedicated to providing advice
- teen-health professionals
School Resource Officers can provide these professionals with a lot of useful information that other school employees wouldn’t be aware of. Because SRO’s tend to be closer to students.
Related Article: Preventing Coronavirus/Contagious Diseases in Schools
9. Knowledge of K-12 School-Based Legal Issues
With the prevalence of “banned” items entering schools, it is important to understand what the law says concerning searching students and seizing their property.
School personnel, including SRO’s, need only establish reasonable suspicion to search and seize items, instead of the probable cause standards used by police officers. By reasonable suspicion, the search need must be reasonable both in scope and at inception.
Other than being privy to the legal framework about the relationship between the students and the school personnel, the SRO should also be aware of legal and security challenges facing K-12 schools today.
10. School Resource Officer’s Are Counselors When Needed
After being hired, SRO’s need to familiarize themselves with the school and identify community resources that are available to them and the students.
When an issue occurs in the community that affects the students, the SRO officer is a valuable resource to the school personal by helping them protect the students. They should also be knowledgeable in child protective services, technologies used by the community and the school, and mental health services.
11. An Enforcer
While in the K-12 school, the SRO handles the safety of the school staff and students within the boundaries of the school. They also serve as liaisons between the school and external security establishments such as police departments and the community.
SROs need to be informed regarding law enforcement matters concerning the school personnel and students.
They should be able to handle many responsibilities besides receiving and responding to calls for service from the school’s management. These include coordinating externally sourced responses from other security personnel. Contacting emergency services in the event of injuries or breach of safety.
12. School Resource Officers are also Educators
In many states across the US, the SRO occasionally teaches both teachers and students about policing. Therefore, having certifications in the related public safety, counseling, and policing studies is an added advantage.
Teaching topics can include:
- policing as a profession
- motor vehicle safety
- DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) topics and programs
- general public safety.
The SRO who possesses the qualities of an educator is a valuable resource for a school. They are able to connect with the students in the classroom the same way teachers do while simultaneously enforcing the law.
Related Article: How to Create a Safe Space in Your Classroom
Other Private School and Charter School Safety Personnel
School first aid coordinators – they attend to students when they require urgent medical attention.
School nurse – they provide comprehensive medical services to students
Health and security volunteers – individuals who complement the responsibilities of School Resource Officers, school nurses, school first aid coordinators, and safety personnel free of charge.
Frequently Asked Questions About School Resource Officers
Q: Who is responsible for hiring SROs?
A: In some states, the school itself may choose to hire the SRO based on the criteria set by management. The local police department can provide its own officers to take roles if necessary. Any school can choose to outsource the recruitment responsibilities of a recruitment agency of choice.
Q: Do SROs need to be certified?
A: No, but they need to be trained. In most contexts, NASPRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) would take the training responsibilities as requested by the school or local police department.
Certifications are given for other purposes and don’t necessarily qualify as a show of qualification. Such purposes include communicating the expiration date, complying with renewal requirements, and as a revocation procedure.
Q: Are SROs always armed?
A: Yes. The SRO is not a security guard but rather, a commissioned law enforcement officer who is allowed by the law to use their firearms when necessary. But that’s not always the case. Some jurisdictions with stringent gun laws restrict School Resource Officers from carrying firearms when in schools.
Q: How many SROs could there be in the United States?
A: No one really knows the exact number of School Resource Officers in the United States. This is partly because there is no requirement for SROs to register with a national database. Additionally, local police departments do not report the number of their officers deployed in schools to serve as SROs.
Q: What evidence shows that SROs are valuable?
A: Research on SROs in the United States is scanty. However, Researchers at Carleton University in Canada conducted a study spanning 2 years on the Canadian SRO program. They released a report in 2018 indicating that, for every $1.00 invested in the program by the government brought, there is $11.10 in returns. The report also highlights several benefits of the program including:
- an increased feeling of security among the school personnel and students
- minimization and prevention of destruction of school property,
- prevention of student deaths and injuries
- increased chances that students would report criminal behavior to the authority
- drop in emergency calls made by schools.
Related Article: 4 Common Issues Found in School Safety Assessment
Q: Do SROs contribute to the dreaded school-to-prison incarceration pipeline?
A: No. School Resource Officers are carefully selected and follow the best practices as defined by NASRO. The role of the SRO is limited to ensuring the security and safety of the students. All disciplinary issues are handled by the school’s management.
Q: How do SROs respond to a mass shooter?
A: NASPRO trains School Resource Officers to charge directly at the shooter and quickly neutralize them to prevent injuries and loss of life.
Q: What’s the maximum number of SROs a K-12 school should have at a given time?
A: According to the recommendations given by NASRO, one carefully selected and trained SRO is enough to provide security for any school. There have been suggestions to allocate 1 SRO for every 1000 students. Schools are advised by NASRO to consider their location, climate, size of their campus, and size of both teaching and non-teaching staff when selecting an SRO.
Q: Who qualifies to be SRO?
A: Contrary to common belief, the SRO does not need to be a law enforcement officer in practice. However, experience in law enforcement is considered to be an added advantage. K-12 schools tend to put more emphasis on the ability of the SRO to connect with teens. Some schools allow volunteers to take over security responsibilities.
Impressive Safety Tools Parents and Teachers Should Have
As the name suggests, this platform connects teachers and parents regarding the care of children after the learning session has been dismissed. It is an excellent platform to ensure that your child is in safe hands immediately after school.
Instead of the old fashioned emergency button under the desk or on the wall, this panic button is designed in such a way that it can be available to every staff member to press immediately when an emergency occurs.
You can train your child to look for signs of danger such as abnormal behavior in the surroundings and send an anonymous alert. It can be a useful tool if there is a fear of kidnapping or frequent bullying.
The School Resources Officer has two core responsibilities:
- facilitating access to resources by students
- ensuring that the safety and security of the students are safeguarded.
Although most SROs are sourced from the local police department, the K-12 school can choose to outsource the recruitment task to a recruitment agency.
NASRO expects SROs to adhere to the best practices of their profession.
- avoiding interfering in the disciplinary apparatus of the K-12 school,
- avoiding taking disciplinary actions against the students,
- refraining from unfair profiling based on factors that would render it illegal.
School Resource Officers should have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the learning institution. This clarifies their specific roles and draws a line between routine discipline issues, which should be pursued by the teachers, and the general safety and security of the students, the actual role of the SRO.