School safety is more than being prepared for emergencies. School safety is a day-to-day concern that should be addressed proactively rather than reactively.
Educators, school leaders and policymakers must create a positive school safety climate and culture that supports student needs, guarantees adequate staffing in schools, improves communication among stakeholders and keeps children and staff safe from threats.
Schools should bring together the people in the building who work most closely with students to address these concerns. Together, we can find solutions that restore a sense of safety and well-being for students and staff in our schools.
We can’t just prepare for the worst day. We have to prepare for every day.
Task force members report that the social-emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increase of students acting out, classroom disruptions and violence in our schools. But we can’t ignore that this escalation in student behaviors was prevalent before the pandemic.
"Now that everyone is back at school in person one thing is clear: High schoolers are acting like middle schoolers, middle schoolers are acting like elementary kids, and elementary kids … well, it isn’t pretty. The time for hand wringing is over. Our kids are depending on us."
This increase in classroom disruptions and students acting out is evidence that kids’ needs aren’t being met. Schools must place providing what kids need above everything else. Educators, including the teachers and SRPs who work most closely with students, want and need these serious concerns addressed for the sake of their students. Chronic disruptions have a cumulative impact on the education of all students in the classroom over time — both the students in need and their peers.
Supporting students’ social-emotional needs is the best way to prevent crises in our schools. Relying solely on punitive measures only harms students in the long run and exacerbates the problems we seek to solve. Programs that implement therapeutic services and restorative practices are finding success in schools across the state. But implementing such restorative practices doesn’t mean there are no consequences for inappropriate student behavior; watering down the school code of conduct doesn’t work either. Temporarily removing students from crises, only to return them to the classroom without interventions or support, perpetuates negative behaviors and fosters a culture of mistrust among students, staff, parents and school administrators. Successful programs bring together all the people in the school building to find solutions and make sure there is buy-in by all stakeholders.
In order to address student behaviors and create a healthy learning environment in schools, we must support educators and schools with the resources they need and, most importantly, the time to implement these initiatives. This includes regular and ongoing training in social emotional learning, violence prevention, mental health and proven prevention and intervention strategies. If school staff aren’t trained properly and involved in the development and implementation of these initiatives, they just won’t work.
The Positive Learning Collaborative from UFT
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the New York City Department of Education developed the Positive Learning Collaborative (PLC) program which partners with educators and administrators to provide the training, tools and support needed to ensure every school is a nurturing, joyful place to learn and grow.
The model incorporates restorative practices, therapeutic crisis intervention for schools (TCIS) and positive interventions and supports to counteract the impact of punitive school discipline which disproportionately affects students of color.
PLC equips school communities with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to safely and effectively respond to challenges in their schools, help prevent crises and ultimately help students focus on academic goals. All school stakeholders receive intense training and direct consultation. Teachers and SRPs learn techniques to help prevent minor conflicts from happening and keep those that do from escalating. And additional training and support is brought in to prevent biased-based bullying and promote gender-inclusive schools.
The PLC’s successes speak for themselves. In one case study, school staff reported a 50 percent reduction in suspensions, 32 percent increase in staff’s ability to manage challenging behavior, 33 percent increase in open communication and an 85 percent increase in staff feeling valued.
The Positive Learning Collaborative has been implemented in large and small public schools in 22 communities across all the city's five boroughs.
Learn more at PositiveLearning.org
"We needed to do something different. Everyone is on the same page, their voices are valued, and we share accountability for our success."
The Syracuse City School District had different emergency drill procedures in each one of their school buildings, more than 30 in all. Four years ago, they partnered with nationally recognized experts on mass shootings and Task Force member Jaclyn Schildkraut of SUNY Oswego to comprehensively review their safety protocols and recommend uniform school safety procedures for the entire district.
In an emergency, it’s critical that consistent protocols are understood and used by the adults, the first responders and staff who work across the district. But Schildkraut explains that not only must students also receive training, that training must be done in “a non-traumatizing way."
Schildkraut’s research indicates that training on the Standard Response Protocol from the I Love U Guys Foundation results in students expressing less fear of harm on the way to school and in school, less perceived risk that a school shooting could happen on their campus, and increased feelings of preparedness to respond to any emergency, not just an active shooter.
This training includes procedures for the same five emergency scenarios (lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter, and hold) that New York state’s Education Department requires schools to have plans for. Training is conducted jointly with staff and students and explains the steps for the emergency procedure and why each is important.
During the first drill, Schildkraut worked with the district on, just 27 percent of classrooms correctly completed all steps of the lockdown procedure. Now, the average is 83 percent perfect completion.
Even still, Syracuse is just one of 18 districts in Onondaga County, “and they all are doing something different in terms of emergency response,” Schildkraut says.
“The more we can streamline, the more it will help if an emergency happens, but also for training and building skills.”
"We don’t light a school on fire to practice a fire drill, we don’t need to simulate an active shooter to have effective lockdown drills. Drills are not training. They are practice. You have to pair them with actual training on the procedure. Continued practice helps build and maintain skill mastery and muscle memory."
New York educators care about students. National, state and local leaders can’t wait any longer to address the widespread safety concerns in our schools. Together, we can make a difference in our schools by implementing best practices, providing the training necessary for educators and students to succeed, and by turning to the staff who work most closely with students to provide solutions to school safety concerns.
Michelle Greenough, English teacher at Fredonia Middle School and president of the Fredonia Teachers Association talks about physical plant safety and about how the local union structure helped the district isolate security issues in its buildings.
John Kuryla, health teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School and president of the North Syracuse Education Association talks about the mental health support his district provides to students. The program was built in the wake of a suicide cluster and expanded to support students in the aftermath of COVID.
Jillian Allessi, Starpoint Teachers Association
Cordelia Anthony, Farmingdale Federation of Teachers
Karen Lee Arthmann, Rush-Henrietta Employees' Assoc.- Paraprofessionals
LeRoy Barr, United Federation of Teachers (UFT)
Tracy Bartlow, Owego Apalachin Teachers Association
Becky Barton, Fulton Teachers Association
Laura Beck, Orange County BOCES Teachers Association
Daniel Bishop, Canaseraga Teachers Association
Michele Bushey, Saranac Teachers Association
Joe Cantafio, West Seneca Teachers Association, Inc
Dwayne Cerbone, Pittsford District Teachers Association
Emily Conrad, White Plains Teachers Association
Kristin Decker, Starpoint Teachers Association
Dena DeLucia-Pryzgoda, Yonkers Federation of Teachers
Mike Devenney, Willam Floyd United Teachers (WFUT)
Mary Dileas, Buffalo Teachers Federation, Inc. (BTF)
Craig Dumas, Northern Adirondack Teachers Association
Laura Franz, Albany Public School Teachers Association (APSTA)
Randal Freiman, Massena Federation of Teachers
Mike Garbowski, Yonkers Federation of Teachers
Brad Gertis, Friendship Teachers Association
Roslyn (Roz) Guterman, Ithaca Teachers Association
Sarah Hoffmann, Scotia-Glenville Teachers Association
Stacy Hoyt, Newark Valley United Teachers
Jill Humphries, Geneva Teachers Association
Sherry Karcher-Hewitt, Capital Region Boces
Melaina King, UUP-Upstate Medical
Vicky Kolb, Watertown Education Association (WEA)
Preya Krishna-Kennedy, Bethlehem Central Teachers Association
Dora Leland, Horseheads Teachers Association
Nicholas Malgieri, Wallkill Teachers Association
Wendy Mann, Association of Penfield Teaching Assistants
Stacy Marzello, Batavia Teachers Association
Kara McCormick-Lyons, White Plains Teachers Association
Joe Najuch, Newfane Teachers Association
Anthony Nicodemo, Greenburgh North Castle United Teachers
Jeff Orlowski, Kenmore Teachers Association
Wendy Palladino, Bellport Teachers Association
Mary Patroulis , Fayetteville-Manlius Teachers Association
Christina Patterson, Mohonasen Teachers Association
Kerrie Phillips, Fulton Teachers Association
Jeffrey Povalitis, United Federation of Teachers (UFT)
Heather Reynolds, UUP - Empire State
Timothy Ritter, Patchogue Medford Congress of Teachers (PMCT)
Jonathan Roche, Syracuse Teachers Association, Inc. | STA Unit 8 Assistants, Monitors, Attendants
Samantha Salmon, Hornell Educators Association
Angelique Santimaw, Potsdam Teachers Association
Jaclyn Schildkraut, SUNY UUP-Oswego
Adam Schrader, Salmon River Teachers Association
Patricia Sheehan, Carthage Teachers Association
Maureen Singer, East Greenbush Teachers Association (EGTA)
Kathleen Sokolowski, Farmingdale Federation of Teachers
Jeanette Stapley, NYSUT Board (Schroon Lake Central School Teachers Association)
Kimberly Stearns, Jefferson CC Educational Support Professionals Association
Kenneth Texler, Yonkers Federation of Teachers
Christina Trottier, Lyme Central School Faculty Association
Tanya Truesdell, Edwards-Knox Central School Service Employees Assn
Kamal Tyson, Schenectady Federation of Teachers
Brian Usselman, Rush-Henrietta Employees Association (Teachers’ Chapter)
Jason Valenti, Rochester Teachers Association
Katie Vitale, Buffalo Teachers Federation, Inc. (BTF)
Johanna Woodams, Buffalo Teachers Federation, Inc. (BTF)
Mike Yerky, Ithaca Substitutes Association