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We need to talk about safety

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How do we build safer schools?

It is our duty to make sure our kids and staff are safe when they are in school. This often comes up in my conversations with parents and staff. We must protect every child with the same vigor we would our own when they are in our buildings and under our care. This is a team effort; school staff, the SRO, other law enforcement, and the community all need to play a role in protecting our kids.

•Talk to staff: Staff are aware of potential security gaps in our schools. I know every potential entry point, exit point, corner and cabinet I can hide a child if needed should an intruder enter our building. We need to talk to staff to find and close security gaps. There are easy fixes like a fire door at UHS that can be opened without an alarm that we need to address immediately. The adults protecting our kids every day know about these gaps. We need to talk to the boots on the ground.

•Accountability: Students need to be held accountable for violent or threatening behavior. Urbandale needs a suspension and expulsion program like those I supervised for West Des Moines, SE Polk, Ankeny and Newton school district before I became a teacher. Students were sent to us for a variety of infractions in lieu of out of school suspensions for periods ranging from 5 days to a semester; removing them from other students while still being supervised and having access to their education. Repeat offenders were assessed for the need of more extensive services. We worked closely with law enforcement through programs like West Des Moines PD’s YJI youth offender initiative.

•Proactive measures: We need to be proactive and prioritize student social emotional needs early in elementary. We need to have a process for identifying students who may need mental health supports to manage aggressive behavior. Research shows that for every minute given to SEL there is an increase in instructional time as less teacher time is needed to address behavior in their classrooms.

•Transparency: We need to communicate with parents and families, not ignore or brush issues under the carpet when safety concerns occur in our schools. School staff and administration want safe schools. We need to be open about the measures being taken to protect kids and staff.

•Community: We all need to communicate safety concerns to school administration and law enforcement. If you see something, say something. We need to make sure firearms are stored safely in our homes.

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