Questions to ask your child's principal
School safety is always in season, so make sure you talk with your child's school about how they are handling this critical issue.
Ask the school principal the following questions. Then communicate your school safety expectations using the sample letter below.
- Do you have a policy manual or teacher's handbook? May I have a copy or review it here?
- Is the safety of the students the first item addressed in the policy or handbook? If not, why not?
- Is the safety of students addressed at all?
- Are there policies addressing violence, weapons, drug use, sexual abuse, child-on-child sexual abuse, unauthorized visitors?
- Are background investigations performed on all staff?
- Who gathers the information?
- Who in the administration reviews the information and determines the suitability for employment?
- What are the criteria for disqualifying an applicant?
- Does the screening process apply to all employees (teachers, janitors, lunchroom staff, security personnel, part-time employees, bus drivers, etc.)?
- Is there a nurse on site at all times while children are present (including before and after school)?
- What is the nurse's education or training?
- Can my child call me at any time?
- May I visit my child at any time?
- What is your policy for when to contact parents?
- What are the parent notification procedures?
- What are the student pickup procedures?
- How is it determined that someone other than I can pick up my child?
- How does the school address special situations (custody disputes, kidnapping concerns, etc.)?
- Are older children separated from younger children during recess, lunch, rest-room breaks, etc.?
- Are acts of violence or criminality at the school documented? Are statistics maintained?
- May I review the statistics?
- What violence or criminality has occurred at the school during the last three years?
- Is there a regular briefing of teachers and administrators to discuss safety and security issues?
- Are teachers formally notified when a child with a history of serious misconduct is introduced to their class?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio in class? During recess? During meals?
- How are students supervised during visits to the rest room?
- Will I be informed of teacher misconduct that may have an impact on the safety or well-being of my child?
- Are there security personnel on the premises?
- Are security personnel provided with written policies and guidelines?
- Is student safety the first issue addressed in the security policy and guidelines material? If not, why not?
- Is there a special background investigation conducted on security personnel, and what does it encompass?
- Is there any control over who can enter the grounds?
- If there is an emergency in a classroom, how does the teacher summon help?
- If there is an emergency on the playground, how does the teacher summon help?
- What are the policies and procedures covering emergencies (fire, civil unrest, earthquake, violent intruder, etc.)?
- How often are emergency drills performed?
- What procedures are followed when a child is injured?
- What hospital would my child be transported to in the event of a serious injury?
- Can I designate a different hospital? A specific family doctor?
- What police station responds to the school?
- Who is the school's liaison at the police department?
Letter to send to your child's school
Dear Principal's name,
Our child, child's name, is attending your school this year. We recognize that schools face special challenges these days and we want to be certain our expectations are reasonable. If we're off base on any of these items, please let us know:
- We expect the safety of the students to be a priority;
- We expect our child to be allowed to contact us at any time she feels the need;
- We expect the school to inform us of anything that might have an impact on her safety or well-being;
- We expect the school to comply with the policies of the school district;
- We expect the school to follow all available ''supplemental screening practices'' set forth in the DOJ Guidelines for the Screening of Persons Working With Children;
- We expect the school to be a weapons-free environment;
- While we authorize you to make decisions on our behalf about educational matters, we do not authorize you to make decisions on our behalf about life-and-death matters;
- We rely upon you or your designates to notify us of any threats to commit violent acts at the school. Even if our child is not specifically named, since she could be in the environment of targeted individuals, we want to be informed so we can evaluate the risks. We request that a safety committee of parents be formed, and that the committee be notified of all threats to commit violent acts;
- other points specific to your child.
Just as we hold you to your duty as principal, so do we ask you to hold us to ours as parents. On this point please advise us of ways we can help you develop a safer school. Knowing that you face bureaucratic, political, and budgetary challenges, there is surely something we can do to help.
We're confident that if your office and our family work together, our child will have the best possible experience at school. At the same time, we want to assist you in furthering the well-being of all the students.
(From Protecting the Gift. Copyright 1999 by Gavin de Becker. Published by The Dial Press. Reprinted with permission.)