Q&A With A School Safety Expert

by | May 21, 2021 | Ask Gary, Gary's Blog, Q&A with Gary

This is the second part of a series of questions asked by School Administrators, Teachers, and School Resource Officers.  Their questions will be answered by Gary L. Sigrist, Jr., President and CEO of Safeguard Risk Solutions.  Gary is a nationally known speaker, consultant, author and expert on emergency preparedness.  His career spans more than 30 years as an educator, administrator and police officer.  Gary’s background in both education and law enforcement gives him a unique perspective on safety and preparedness, which he brings to his work with clients of Safeguard Risk Solutions.

Do classrooms need to be lockable from the classroom side and be unlocked from the hallway side?

Best practice (and new builds) allows for locking the classroom from the inside. My recommendation is classroom doors are always locked, even if the door is open. Teachers should never need to go into the hallway to lock a door.  If it is closed and locked, one step is saved.  If the door is open but locked, the door just needs to be pulled shut.  From the Texas State School Safety Center, you increase your chances of survival during an Active Shooter Event by 70% simply by being behind a locked door.

How do you handle college / university visitors on open campuses?  What are some options and best practices?

Sadly, we are at a point in time where we need to consider students on our campuses and staff to wear ID cards. I do not think we need to close the green spaces on our campuses, but access to all buildings should be controlled.  RFID ID cards can be used to open doors and keep track of who is in our buildings.  Signage will be needed at all entrances, like what we have in the K12 settings that states unauthorize entry may result in criminal charges.

Here in Hawaii, our schools are open campuses (e.g., multiple buildings/portables spread around a campus).  Many of our campuses are not fully fenced and those that have it have multiple gates.  These gates are opened during student arrival and after-school when school ends.  They are locked during school hours and after when everyone has left.  Also, these gates are also used during off-campus evacuations.  Is this OK or should everyone arrive and leave through one campus entry/exit point? 

You asked one question, but I am going to answer two. You do not always need fences for access control.  A tree line or a hedge row can establish a natural boundary around the school.  Although vegetation would not prevent access to the property, defining the property line removes the excuse if someone is caught trespassing to say they did not know where the school property started.  For the question you asked, the fewer entrances to the school property through gates, the fewer staff you need to monitor access.  If you have staffing, I will want as many gates open at the end of the day as possible.

Can you provide guidelines in handling Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) situations, or are there existing guidelines on handling TROs?  Are schools responsible for ensuring TRO compliance or reporting TRO violations?

It is the responsibility of the custodial parent to keep the schools informed of all custody and legal issues regarding child custody. We had a parent who wanted to have lunch with his daughter.  However, according to the most recent custody agreement filed with the courts stated the parent was only allowed to see his daughter on Wednesday evenings from 6-8.  Had the custodial parent not provided the court documents we would have allowed the parent to have lunch with his child.

Sadly, Domestic Violence finds its way into our schools. As part of your school’s safety training, you must discuss with your staff the importance of letting the administration and security know if there are potential threats to the school if they are in an abusive relationship or if there are any restraining orders against their significant other. Your organization can add precautions at the facility and assist with the employee’s personal safety plan when at work if they know about the threat.

What do we do with students take extra time to go from the cafe, for example, back to their homeroom before evacuating?

For grades K-8, we recommend students always report to their homeroom rally point outside of the building during a fire drill. If the students are not in their homeroom, in a transition period, or at lunch, they exit with the teacher they are with, but then go to their homeroom rally point.  High schools are a little more challenging because students are not in the building the entire day.  In Ohio, I worked with our State Fire Marshall for a plan if there was a fire drill during a transition period or lunch.  Teachers would direct the students out of the building to the nearest rally point.  Administrators and staff not with students would sweep designated areas and report to the Command Post.  We had multiple staff check the same areas.  When the Fire Department came to the Command Post we were not able to tell how many students and staff had evacuated, but we could show the building had been evacuated.

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