School superintendents today face extraordinary pressures from communities and elected officials to keep schools safe. With each tragic school incident that takes lives, the spotlight shines brighter on school offices to implement new tools designed to provide a safe learning environment.
Of course, in most cases, those expectations come in the midst of tightening local and state budgets for higher education. For many superintendents, especially those without a background in technology, knowing how to begin with the assessment, costs, and selection of safety solutions can be even more daunting.
While they are trying to make schools safer, they need to be mindful of the culture they are putting in place. Studies have shown that students that perceive a positive and safe school culture perform better. But metal detectors and heavy police may have the opposite effect, creating fear and anxiety, especially for students of color.
The complexities of school safety are challenging. However, new technologies have emerged in recent years that help superintendents create the right school culture, provide a safer school environment for learning and produce the data to back up the impact of these investments.
Below is a look at the state of school safety today, the growth of security solutions in schools and a look at some of the most common technologies.
The State of School Safety
Sandy Hook. Parkland. Columbine.
The carnage inflicted on students and staff has been stunning in recent years, heightening public awareness and concern. The magnitude of these tragedies and extensive media coverage has led to growing fear, worry, and activism. This activity comes as the rate of school violence is decreasing. According to a study by Northeastern University, of all mass murders in the United States, on average only one per year occurs at a school. Researchers found that the number of mass school shootings (defined as 4 or more people killed) has declined from about 30 per year in the 1992-93 school year to fewer than 10 in 2014-15.
In December 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety issued its findings. It provided many recommendations designed to “promote state and local solutions to school violence” in three categories: preventing school violence, protecting students and teachers, and responding to and recovering from attacks.
Several of its findings are highly relevant to conversations about the technology used to improve school climate and safety:
· Creation of a positive school climate. The commission believes a better school climate helps students connect with teachers and other students, along with combating cyberbullying. It notes that the Columbine, Parkland and Sandy Hook shooter’s all felt isolated and, in the former two, were disconnected from classmates.
· Building and campus security. The report acknowledges that every school is different and that the right security measures will vary based on location, personnel, resources, and site. It urges schools to conduct a risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and inform strategies to address shortcomings. Security plans should “use a layered approach” that has protective measures for entry points, the building envelope (doors, windows, roof, and walls) and classrooms.
· The Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SSHS) approach. Intended to reduce youth violence, the SSHS approach includes using “enhanced technology to identify patterns and trends.” The program encourages schools to create “a comprehensive data-collection system to track student behavior, providing an interactive online map to depict disciplinary data and identify patterns and trends.
Several factors that play into the ease of implementing security measures. The Secure Schools Alliance (SSA) notes that there are more than 100,000 K-12 school buildings in the U.S. and that the average age of those buildings is 44 years. There has not been a federal investment in school infrastructure since the 1950s. The resources available for schools at the state level are scarce.
According to the SSA, as of February 2018:
· 10 states provide grants for school security improvements (up to 12 by September 2018)
· 15 states have established standards for improving school security
· 25 states have security-focused school safety centers, and a small number have offices in the state education department
· 48 states mandate school emergency plans and staff and student training on the plans
· Just four states do all four
In 2018, the SSA released the findings of a study it sponsored. The study, conducted by the Police Foundation, looked at state legislation regarding school safety and security. Its findings reinforce the earlier SSA data. For example, it found that just 27 states require school facility security audits or assessments. However, many of the state guidelines vary in terms of focus, with only about half having a focus on facilities.
Providing standards is a challenging task. “There is a no template for school security,” Erroll Southers, a University of Southern California professor and director of its Safe Communities Institute,” told U.S. News and World Report recently. “Every school is different. Every school has its own vulnerabilities, it has its own assets, and it has its own cultures.”
The Growth of School Security Tools
For various reasons, there has been a remarkable rise in security technology for schools. The National Center for Education Statistics has noted that in nearly all cases, more schools are using more security measures.
Here’s a closer look at the percentage of public schools with selected security measures:
|Controlled Building Access||74.6||94.1|
|Students Must Wear Badges or Picture IDs||3.9||7.0|
|Teachers and Staff Must Wear Badges or Picture IDs||25.4||67.9|
|Daily Student Metal Detector Pass-Throughs||0.9||1.8|
|Random Metal Detector Checks||7.2||4.5|
|Telephones in Most Classrooms||44.6||79.3|
|Electronic Notification System||43.2 (2007-08)||73.0|
|Silent Alarms to Law Enforcement||NA||27.1|
Metal detectors may seem like a logical solution. However, as noted in a Rand Corporation report on school safety technology, research shows that metal detectors “have no apparent eﬀect on reducing injuries, deaths, or threats of violence on school grounds.” Since other metal objects than knives or guns will also trigger a metal detector, staff need to be trained on how to use the technology properly. There is also the concern that, as Rand notes, that metal detectors are “creating a prison-like atmosphere.”
There has also been a profound increase in the use of school resource officers – usually police who are a steady presence in school buildings. Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the number of schools with at least one security staff present at least once a week grew from 43.5 percent to 51.2 percent. In 2015-16, 39.7 percent of schools had a sworn law enforcement officer routinely carrying a firearm in school buildings.
Research has also shown that the presence of school resource officers does little to affect the sense of safety among students. African-American students and victimized students may feel less safe with officers in the schools. Other studies note that there is a larger prevalence of actions taken by school resource officers against African-American students.
The studies and data confirm that the issue is one of both safety and climate. James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University and one of the authors of the mass-murder study, urges that schools be careful about which technologies they deploy. “I’m not a big fan of making schools look like fortresses, because they send a message to kids that the bad guy is coming for you—if we’re surrounding you with security, you must have a bullseye on your back,” he said. “That can actually instill fear, not relieve it.”
Types of Technologies Available
Increasingly, school systems are turning to technologies to address the pressing needs for school security and provide solutions that effectively address school safety. It’s projected to be a $2.8 billion industry by 2021.
What can the solutions out there provide and which make the most sense? The Rand study classified the technology into 12 broad categories. Here is a closer look at those solutions and their potential impact on school systems.
1. Identification Technology
Smart ID Card tech includes student, teachers, and staff identification, visitor badges and parking stickers that help distinguish who is authorized to access school buildings and classrooms. These are commonly used tools to manage access to school property and school events such as dances and sporting events.
One significant advantage of these solutions is the lack of perceived intrusiveness. Students, teachers, staff and community members generally are comfortable and understand why these solutions are so important.
ScholarChip, the leading provider of school security solutions offers several technologies that serve as the foundation of preventative measures. Students can use Smart ID Cards for classroom attendance, bus attendance, in hallways, or other locations, such as the nurse’s office, library or counselor’s office. The Smart ID Cards also can be used for building-wide attendance of large events such as concerts, sporting events or the prom. Also, the Smart ID Cards allow for managing attendance on field trips and other off-site activities. The Smart ID Card can be used to purchase lunch using point-of-sale stations. Teachers and staff can use the Smart ID Card to access doors and clock into work.
In addition to the essential security functions, the cards provide for a rich collection of data that can be used by administrators to gain valuable insights into their student population. Knowing where your students are – whether in class or absent – promotes safety.
ScholarChip also helps keep track of who’s visiting a school. Its visitor management solution scans a new visitor’s driver’s license or state-wide ID to automatically register a visitor and pulls in information directly from the provided ID. The solution also checks the ID against a registered sex offender database and can flag potential risks. Once a visitor is registered, future check-ins are faster and do not require re-submitting visitor information. The solution automatically collects visitor demographic data, photos, reasons for visiting and final destinations. It manages visitor status and categorizes visitors by a group.
Visitors can use their fob or visitor pass/sticker to check out. This creates a timestamp of when visitors entered and exited the building. The fob or visitor pass will not allow access through locked doors.
Optional add-ons can provide for more functionality, including:
· Integration with school student information systems to improve and manage student pick-ups, especially when there is a custody issue at play
· Issue late-arrival passes and early-dismissal slips
· Issue fobs or cards to frequent visitors for speedy check-in
2. Violence Prevention Systems
Using data-driven software tools, school systems can predict misbehavior or possibly school violence. Collected data on individual and group demographics or behaviors can detect and predict future violence.
Systems that identify attendance issues and allow for early intervention on behavioral problems are critical in reducing school violence. The number of teachers citing student tardiness and class cutting as significant issues that interfere with learning has grown from 25.4 percent in 1993-94 to 35.3 in 2011-12.
A University of California at Davis study showed that students were more likely to skip school if they felt schools were unsafe or they worried about being in fights. Conversely, students were more likely to attend if they felt connected to their schools and had a teacher or other adult who cared about them. The researchers encouraged more initiatives to improve school safety to improve attendance figure.
ScholarChip’s automated attendance tools provide real-time data on who is in attendance and reporting functionalities that allow for better analysis of attendance trends. Schools can flag at-risk students and intervene sooner, leading to better student outcomes and classroom experiences for all students. Another ScholarChip solution helps identify student behavioral issues earlier, mitigating the risk of disruptive or violent behaviors later. The Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE) automates teacher referrals of students exhibiting bad behavior. The ABE solution gives administrators, counselors, and teachers powerful data-driven reports that quickly flag at-risk students. Once identified, students, complete a self-paced, interactive program that reinforces the importance of responsible behavior. Staff can monitor and chronicle progress.
Early intervention helps return valuable learning time to affected classrooms and helps lower dropout rates and in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
3. Entry Control Equipment
School administrators need tools to quickly restrict access to only authorized users and provide perimeter protection. Electromagnetic school locks are the most common preventative tool and enable staff to lock targeted doors. It is among the most common school security measures.
ScholarChip’s Secure Door Access tool helps administrators know which staff members and students pass through which doors and allows access to specific students, teachers, and staff at particular times of the day. As importantly, the tool lets administrators lock down doors instantly with one-click efficiency.
Access rights are accurate and immediate. Designated card holders can be added and removed quickly. If a student transfers or a staff member is no longer with the district or a specific building, cards can be voided with one click.
The solution supports all standard door strikes and can be used for parking gates.
4. Video Surveillance
This category includes cameras, closed-circuit television, video recordings and motion detection systems. These tools are effectively used to record student, teacher, and staff actions, identify assailants or perpetrators and deter crimes by implying that people are being monitored.
Typically, cameras are located in high-risk or vulnerable locations on school property and school buses. Camera feeds are sent to a monitoring station. One challenge for districts is the need for cameras to be hidden, concealed or placed in hard-to-reach locations to deter vandalism.
A survey by Campus Safety magazine showed that nine out of 10 K-12 schools, higher-education institutions, and health care providers had installed some type of video surveillance system. Half of those that did not have video surveillance in 2016 expected to install solutions by 2019.
The most commonly adopted solutions include:
· Fixed security cameras (78 percent)
· Network video recorders (48 percent)
· Digital video recorders (47 percent)
· Video management software (44 percent)
5. Communications Tech
Communication is an essential preventative tool for school districts. Equipping teachers and staff with tools that allow for two-way communication allow for the notification of incidents and requests for help. Whether it’s classroom phones, intercoms, walkie-talkies, radios or emergency communication systems, these tools enable students and staff alike to notify a school office or law enforcement about incidents, threats, risks, and unauthorized visitors.
These low-tech and inexpensive but effective tools ensure rapid communication.
6. School-Site Alarm and Protection Systems
Fire and smoke alarms have long been the norm in school systems. Today, new technologies provide other alerts for those in a school building. Scream alarms are triggered when a sound threshold is reached, such as when someone needs help. Infrared body heat detectors can passively activate and alert authorities. Motion detectors and sound detectors can issue alerts when triggered. Local alarms can sound in some locations that alert the entire building that there is an emergency in progress and let perpetrators know they’ve been detected.
Other tools include wireless panic buttons that can issue silent alerts to authorities when deployed.
These technologies are more responsive than preventative, used once a crisis is detected although there are some deterrence outcomes as well.
7. Emergency Alerts
Emergency alerts are broad notification tools that can be sent via text message, email, phone or multiple technologies. They alert students, parents, teachers, staff and other community members about a school crisis, whether it’s a school shooting, intruder or lockdown. Other technologies in this category include school television stations that staff can use to notify students and teachers about potential or existing threats.
These tools are effective ways to distribute information and facts that can dispel the inevitable rumors that proliferate in such instances. They usually include necessary and vital information, such as the type of emergency, what steps are being taken, what steps the recipients should receive and where to get more information. The solutions are relatively inexpensive and easy to deploy and manage.
In a crisis, it’s essential to establish a single, trusted source of information to ensure that all are informed at the same time with the same information.
8. Metal Detectors and X-Ray Machines
Designed to prevent weapons from entering a school, these solutions include walk-through and hand-held metal detectors or x-ray machines. They are used to scan people, backpacks, book bags, and other possessions and are usually deployed at school entrances or exits.
Some schools use the tools daily, and others have random searches at unscheduled intervals. They are most frequently used in high schools and, to a lesser extent, in middle schools.
As noted earlier, research has shown that these technologies have had little impact on reducing threats, injuries or deaths in U.S. schools. They appear to be most effective in schools where there is a history of bringing knives or guns to school or school events.
Among the concerns Rand cited are delays in students reaching class due to long lines, racial discrimination, privacy issues, and the likelihood of moving violence off of school property. Larger detectors can also be expensive, costing upwards of $20,000 and requiring more staff to be hired, trained or deployed to assist with scanning.
9. Anonymous Tip Lines and Apps
Bullying is a major issue in school systems. It can have a profound impact on school culture, feelings of safety and violence. The National Center for Education Statistics noted in 2016 the following from the 2014-15 school year:
· 20.8 percent reported being bullied (down from 23 percent in 2005)
· 66.8 percent of surveyed students saying they were bullied experiences bullying once or twice a school year
· 33 percent of students experienced bullying once or twice per month
· 4.2 percent of students were bullied every day
· Among students reporting being bullied, an adult was notified just 43.1 percent of the time
· The most frequently cited types of bullying were:
· Insults, name-calling or made fun of (13.3 percent)
· Subject of rumors (12.2 percent)
· Pushed, shoved, spit on or tripped (5.1 percent)
· Intentionally excluded from activities (5.0 percent)
· Threatened with harm (3.9 percent)
· Tried to make do things they did not want to do (2.5 percent)
· Had property destroyed intentionally (1.8 percent)
The American Educational Research Association calls school safety and the prevention of bullying “a top national priority.” Active steps to improve school climate have a decided impact on creating a safe school environment and reducing victimization.
Anonymous tip lines can help affected students reach out and report concerns about bullying and other potential threats. Toll-free hotlines, voicemail lines or anonymous or confidential text messaging or website posts give students and others a central point to report incidents, concerns or problems. It also creates a nexus for staff tasked with addressing these issues.
Schools need to be proactive in informing students and parents about these technologies and whether reports are anonymous or confidential. These solutions are usually low in cost and are provided for free in some states.
10. Tracking Systems
For parents and schools who want peace of mind of knowing where there students are, smartphone apps and global positioning systems can help pinpoint student locations in real time. In some cases, devices can be installed in school buses to help parents know where drivers are on their routes. Bus tracking has the added benefit of helping school districts configure faster or safer routes that lead to savings on fuel and insurance costs.
Creating detailed digital maps of school buildings, grounds and bus routes can save lives during an emergency. These maps can help responders understand school sites and plan for emergency events. During an actual emergency, the maps can help reach victims and perpetrators and devise a strategy.
12. Social Media Monitoring
Social media is prevalent among students at an early age. While schools should encourage parent monitoring of social media accounts, there are more proactive tools that can detect problems. Automated scanning and alerts for images and text can pinpoint instances of bullying, threats, self-harm and other potential warning signs. This information can be used to intercede, record crimes or threats of crime and prevent future incidents.