Preparing for a post-pandemic world: How to balance school safety and security

 

By Ken Cook, Allegion’s National Education Safety Manager

 

October is Safe Schools Month at Allegion. All month long, we’ve shared educational resources to assist K-12 administrators in developing plans for safe and secure schools. On Wednesday, October 14, I hosted an hour-long panel discussion with three industry experts, “Preparing for a post-pandemic world: A practical guide to balancing school safety and security.” Topics ranged from balancing safety with new social distancing guidelines, planning for civil disturbances and accessing funding resources.

 

Panelists included:

  • Paul Timm, vice president of Facility Engineering Associates. Timm is a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and a nationally acclaimed expert in school security.
  • Dr. Paula Love, “The Funding Doctor”. Dr. Love has nearly five decades of experience using proven funding strategies for for-profit and nonprofit organizations, state and local educational agencies, schools and institutions of higher learning.
  • Guy Grace, former director of security and emergency planning. Grace has worked in the security field for 35 years. He served for over three decades as the director of security and emergency planning for Littleton Public Schools, a suburb of Denver, Colorado before retiring in August 2020.

 

This article captures some of the key takeaways from the webinar. Get the full recording here.

Door propping in schools

 

Balancing safety and security in K-12 schools

 

Emergency response planning in K-12 schools requires both: safety and security. What’s the difference? Typically, the school safety component is code-driven. For example, there are fire and life safety building codes designed to keep building occupants safe. School security on the other hand can be less regulated. Timm described it more as best practices compared to official guidelines and noted that there is often a natural tension between the two.

 

We’ve seen this tension deepen in recent months with new guidelines for health and safety, like those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local governments. So how do schools know when to follow the new guidance, and what should you do when it imposes on sound security practices? It’s going to vary case by case, so it’s up to schools to strike the right balance by weighing the risks of new protocols. It’s like a delicate balancing act, and what’s a tipping point for one school might not be an issue for another.

 

For example, propping doors is a hot topic now. Many classroom doors with door closers are smoke and fire barriers. According to codes, these must be closed and latched. We recommend checking with your local code official before propping classroom doors with door closers installed.

 

 

Timm shared a story during the webinar where he recalled driving past a school that had an after-hours volleyball practice in the gymnasium. He could see from the street that the door was propped open. This violates basic security practices, especially since nobody was monitoring the door.
The benefit the school was hoping to achieve was increased airflow. But is the amount of airflow from one propped door worth the security threat? In Timm’s mind, the health benefit was minimal while the security risk was significant.

 

To help achieve balance, Grace recommended working with local health departments. Best practices are going to vary from state to state, even district to district. What works for a rural school might not work for an urban city school

 

Whether you are focusing on safety or security, know there are many opportunities for funding support. For example, when it comes to keeping your school building safe, you may consider grants under the U.S. Department of Education Impact Aid Construction program or work in partnership with your local fire department with the Fire Prevention and Safety Programs. If you are a charter school, you may want to check out the Facilities Investment Fund from the Walton Family Foundation.
 

Highlights from fall semester: What’s worked well in K-12, what’s had to change and what to consider for the future

 

While school openings have been far from perfect, many have begun to adapt to new policies and procedures. Here are a few examples of things that changed this semester and things to plan for moving forward.

 

Collaborative planning for school reopening

 

Panelists agreed that what’s worked well, for the most part, is communication and planning. While not perfect, schools have been collaborative and flexible. Everyone has an important part of the conversation—from facility personnel to teachers to district leaders—so they’ve had to collaborate like never before. And as plans need to change, schools have adapted as quickly as possible. Timm said he’s worked with schools that are on their seventh iteration of reopening plans.

 

Schools are reporting less than 1 percent of students with confirmed cases, according to NPR. Grace believes this is because schools were prepared for other emergencies, which enabled them to adjust to a new normal quickly.

 

Moving forward, schools should continue this flexibility and develop strategies that incorporate the lessons learned from the fall semester in a way that is safe and secure for all parties. Remember, it’s a balancing act. Work with local authorities and check out the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) for additional recommendations.

 

School drills during the pandemic

 

Implementing drills is still necessary; students need to be prepared for threats that occurred before the pandemic, like severe weather, fires and active shooters. Schools have had to make adjustments to prepare students for these school threats while following social distancing protocols.

 

Gone are the days of crowding students into rally areas or sitting them shoulder-to-shoulder in the classroom. Instead, some have tried staggering times for drills to occur. Another option is to place markers around the school that show students where they would shelter during a tornado warning. You can also potentially introduce new egress paths. Timm hosted a webinar on this topic earlier this year.

 

Grace also recommended a video program that covers all the emergency drills and procedures students should know—from tornado and fire drills to hand-washing best practices. This could be shared with students and their families over email and reviewed in class.

 

Dr. Love emphasized that now is a great time to explore funding, as we experience changes and new directions in education. She said that many formula grant programs schools may have received in 2019, such as Title I or IDEA, have extended windows to obligate the funds through September 30, 2021. With the CARES funding, she’s seeing an increased emphasis on flexibility when it comes to uses of the funds as well as importance placed on local decision making.

 

Beyond government grants, foundations like Kellogg, JPMorgan Chase and Nellie Mae are addressing issues of inequity and offering new funding opportunities too. Keep in mind grant timelines are often announced with short windows to respond. So it’s critical to be prepared and ready with a written focus of your school district’s reopening plans and other efforts to meet today’s changes—as well as those in the future.

 

Hand sanitizer best practices

 

With increased focus on hand washing and sanitizing, many schools are adding sanitizing stations throughout facilities. However, schools need to be careful about where it’s placed and stored. For more information on this, visit idighardware.com.

 

Taking teaching outside

 

Outdoor classes are growing in popularity, especially in places that have warmer temperatures all year. The expert panelists approve of outdoor classes, as long as monitoring is in place to keep everyone safe. Timm recommended that teachers have two-way radios, vests so students can easily locate them and emergency supplies. They emphasized the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency, like having reverse evacuation plans in place. Students should know what to do in the event of an emergency and understand what to look for—violent threats, signs of severe weather and more.

 

New visitor management concerns

 

Even though visitors are restricted at most schools, visitor management is still necessary in K-12. There are fewer people coming into schools, but now they’re coming in wearing masks. Therefore, visitor management software is just as important as in previous years—maybe more so. A couple features of visitor management software they’ve seen developed during the pandemic include screening questions to identify signs of fever or infection and options for contact tracing.

 

Timm said it’s important to have strong visitor management protocols and technologies in place now, and that’s going to make schools much better post-pandemic.
 

K12 civil disturbances

 

Civil disturbances

 

A poll during the webinar found that 44 percent of respondents either do not have procedures in place for civil disturbances or they’re unsure of the procedures. This type of planning is commonly overlooked, but it is a critical part of school emergency response plans. Students are more informed and involved today, and they want their voices to be heard. Timm emphasized the need to document procedures for events like protests in school safety plans, especially as the election approaches. Here are the tips he shared.

 

  • Include procedures for potential events like sit-ins, walk-outs and protests in your emergency planning. Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida there were student walk-outs across the country. Some schools offered auditoriums for students to use in place of a walk-out. Some even invited local state legislators so student concerns could be heard. It’s great to get the students involved.
  • Collaborate with local authorities to develop proactive plans. They’re professionals and might have information and resources to share. Plus it’s crucial to stay connected at all times in case an event arises.
  • Prepare teachers, students and the community to report suspicious activity. It’s simple: “See Something, Say Something.” Make sure individuals feel comfortable and confident in their options to report what they see or hear. Schools will be in a better position if they have information coming in from students, parents, authorities and teachers.
  • Educate teachers and students on what to do in the event of a civil disturbance. Even with other procedures in place, events can arise quickly, so teachers and students need to be prepared.
  • Develop procedures to notify all stakeholders—police, district personnel, parents, students and teachers. Everyone needs to be aware of what’s going on. Students are always on their mobile devices, so include them in your mass notifications.

 

There’s funding available to help with this type of preparation. Check out the STOP School Violence program and the School Violence Protection Program (SVPP).
 

 

More funding opportunities for your school

 

Dr. Paula Love, known as the funding doctor, shared many funding resources throughout the webinar. The main takeaway was this: There are a lot of new practices to implement, and luckily, there are several funding resources to help implement them. Here’s a glimpse at some of the ones referenced during the webinar:

 

What’s going on with the CARES Act?

 

Many districts have already taken advantage of the CARES ACT funding. In regards to the education-specific funding, the U.S. Department of Education is tracking in real-time how much has been spent, at usaspending.gov. Remember, these funds are flexible and intended to change as schools’ needs change.

 

Funding for air purification in K-12 schools

 

According to Love, funding from FEMA, like Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), and the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) have been used to support initiatives related to air purification. She’s also seen support from Advanced Technological Education (ATE) and Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems, both from the National Science Foundation. The Environmental Protection Agency also has a program called Building Energy Efficiency Frontiers and Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT). The competition is currently open with concept papers due in November 5, 2020.

 

School security grants

 

Title I, Part A – Improving Basic Programs This formula grant provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with a high volume of children from low-income families. This funding is intended to support the well-being of students, so grant money can be used for things like adding and improving access control, classroom security, perimeter security, compartmentalization and creating healthy schools.

 

Title IV, Part A - Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program (SSAE) This formula grant provides students with access to a well-rounded education, improved school conditions for student learning and improved use of technology in order to enhance the academic achievement and digital literacy for all students. This grant can be used for similar purposes as Title I, Part A.

 

Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act Program This grant can be used for ADA-compliant products, including electronic and access control products when used to assist disabled users.

 

Learn more about K-12 safety and security

 

This is just a glimpse at what was shared during the hour-long session. Watch the entire panel presentation to learn more. If you have specific questions or are interested in learning how Allegion can help you prepare for a post-pandemic world, contact an Allegion expert today.

 

This information is also available as an infographic. Download it now.