Meeting Today’s School Safety Challenges

Meeting Today’s School Safety Challenges

Giving staff a voice to ensure employees have healthy working conditions

Sustaining a safe environment for students and staff is—or at least should be—a key priority for all school districts. However, without a comprehensive plan in place, this can be a challenging endeavor. From managing ever-changing regulatory compliance requirements and ensuring the proper communication channels are in place, to training staff and creating an overall school culture rooted in safe practices, there are a lot of factors that district leaders need to address as part of an effective safety plan.

Franklin City Schools in Franklin, Ohio faced its own challenges with school safety before creating an effective, well-planned and comprehensive approach to school safety that it could sustain long term. The town is home to over 11,000 people and located in the fast-grow-ing Cincinatti-Dayton-Springfield area. Franklin's school district itself features one high school, a junior high school, five elementary schools and an early childhood center. The following best practices helped the district move from reactive to proactive in addressing any potential concerns while ensuring a safe teaching and learning environment for its more than 3,000 students and 300 staff members.

Give All Staff a Voice

The journey to creating a comprehensive safety plan at Franklin City Schools started after an audit by the Public Employment Risk Reduction Program (PERRP), which ensures public employees in Ohio have safe and healthy working conditions. This audit, which was initiated by a group of teachers in response to safety concerns at an aging school building, revealed additional compliance issues and ultimately cost the district more than $100,000 in investment. The district went on to address the issues in a timely manner.

In addition to the compliance issues, the audit process notably revealed that teachers often felt like their voices weren’t being heard as building principals were the only ones who could file safety complaints.

For example, a teacher might mention a loose hand rail or chipping tiles to their principal, but it was up to the principal to put in the work order for the complaint. This was not always being done with consistency or fidelity. The responsibility for creating and maintaining a safe environment was too top-heavy at the administrative level.

Now, any staff member can put in a work order. By spreading out the responsibility and giving teachers a voice in creating a safe work environment, staff morale has improved. Staff appreciate working in a safe working environment and having active ownership in sustaining that environment.

Provide Robust Training

In addition to now being able to submit a work order, all staff is actively involved in enhanced safety training. This includes completing online, district-specific training programs via the PublicSchool- WORKS Online Staff Training System on regulatory compliance mandates and board policies.

These courses can range from crisis prevention to state OSHA regulations to accident reporting as well as safety training courses on issues like bullying prevention, consequence management and responding to food allergies. The district is intentional about not making the amount of training too excessive so that employees understand it is not busy work, but rather an essential component to creating a safe school environment.

If an accident does occur during the school year, because of the integration of training and the staff accident management system, those involved are enrolled in and auto-notified to complete retraining courses within the online system to help avoid further incidents. Or, if the district sees the need rise in a certain safety area at any point in the school year, it assigns specific training courses as needed.

By providing robust training from the start, and continuing that training throughout the school year, the district is saving money in the long term on workers’ compensation and substitute teacher costs that happen when a teacher is injured and out of the classroom. In addition, the reduction of staff injuries has had a direct and positive impact on student achievement.

Keep Good Data

Using an online system has made the district more efficient in a number of administrative ways, in addition to making it easy for the staff to complete training courses.

The district has been able to reduce paper and time spent chasing training records, while maintaining more solid data, as all records are now kept digitally. This is a stark comparison to when the district had to manage paperwork that was eight to nine inches thick during the PERRP audit.

Having accurate, consistent, and complete data is critical for documentation, recordkeeping, analysis, and reporting. With an online system, the district is able to easily track all the data, spot school or employee trends, and be proactive in its intervention.

For example, if an employee is assigned a specific training course and does not complete it by the deadline, the district leadership team in charge of safety is alerted and that employee is sent follow-up reminders.

Each Monday at the district’s cabinet meeting, the leadership team reviews training and incident data pulled from PublicSchool- WORKS’ Staff Accident Management System. This data is proactively monitored, and any potential issue is addressed before it becomes a problem.

Get Extra Support

Implementing a comprehensive safety approach from the ground up can be a big task—there’s a lot of research and development that goes into the process before the training can even start. Choosing an outside partner that is an expert in safety and regulatory compliance can be a huge asset for a district.

Through the partnership with PublicSchoolWORKS, for example, Franklin City Schools was provided a program management coordinator who advised on and guided the implementation process and ensured the district was meeting all federal and state regulations.

The district additionally has ongoing, around-the-clock access to safety and compliance specialists, chemical safety specialists, and technical support professionals via a staff hotline. Having experts assist with the process and be readily available to answer any questions, provides the district with reassurance that it is covering all of its bases regarding a safe school environment.

The district's size and security needs are smaller compared to those of a large metropolitan district, and it is likely that those larger disticts have more funds to spend on safety improvements for staff. But Franklin's progress in this area demonstrates that partnerships can be effective when any district, large or small, shows dedication to adjusting its mindset about workplace safety and selects the right provider or company to assist in its journey.

By creating a comprehensive safety plan and establishing a culture where everyone is involved in and responsible for maintaining a safe school environment, Franklin City Schools has significantly reduced the number of incidents in its district. This past school year, there were only six minor safety incidents which equated to six days of employees missing school time—nearly two-thirds less than two years ago.

In addition to this being an indicator of successful training, it means that teachers are in the classroom more often, which improves student achievement—something that is the collective goal of all educators.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.