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Skyward Best Practices: How technology can bolster security in schools

Student safety remains a top priority for school districts across the nationa and continues to be a front-burner issue in the media and legislature. From media coverage of school security breaches to legislative debates on bills related to school safety, one theme is clear: violence, natural disasters and crisis events are all too common, and schools must have a plan in place to prevent and mitigate catastrophe.

In an October 2014 survey by District Administration, 62% of education leaders and experts said technology-based security was a new area of focus for 2015. Thankfully, advancements in technology are keeping school environments safe, while allowing administrators to take action on safety measures and initiatives within their district.
Are you an administrator who is looking to improve an emergency preparation plan? Are you seeking out new ways to keep students safe in today's world? Are you wondering what technology is out there to support your district’s security goals?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, read on and take a look at the current fundamental technology tools and practices your district can implement to increase security and ensure your staff members, educators and students are protected at school. 

62% of education leaders and experts said technology-based security was a new area of focus for 2015.

Boost Physical Security Measures

The National Center for Education Statistics’ Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013 report, published in June 2014, indicates the various measures schools took during the 2011-2012 academic year to keep students and staff safe. According to the report, 88% of public schools reported that they controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours, and 64% reported that they used security cameras to monitor the school.

Tech-based security has become popular among most districts as a means to protect schools and monitor activity. Cameras in schools have been fairly common tools for many districts, but these hardware devices are becoming even more prevalent and more advanced as a technology tool – picking up sound, allowing better zooming capabilities, and providing detailed, color-rich images.
On the other hand, installing cameras on school buses is a newer concept. Take a look at this news article featuring Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama. With a goal of deterring cars from driving through bus stop signs when children are being picked up or dropped off, these cameras can be used to make rides to and from school safer. Having the ability to monitor what goes on in (and en route to) your schools can make all the difference in discouraging negative activity, while video footage can provide a crucial resource if an illegal or emergency situation does occur. 


Know Where Your Students Are

Another way districts can keep an eye on happenings inside and outside their school buildings is to prevent any possible intruders by locking exit and entrance doors during the school day. Many districts require visitors entering the school building to go to a central door or front office location to enter. Doorbell systems are also common, where front office staff buzz in people entering the building. Then, office employees direct visitors to sign in and provide them with visitor passes or badges. Some schools have even installed visitor management kiosks to run an instant background check on those entering the building. Visitors’ information is recorded in a school database as a precaution, to serve as reference if a suspicious situation arises.
In addition to tracking and recording who is coming in and out of school buildings, consider evolving your attendance process beyond "where a student should be" in favor of "where a student is." Education innovations like Positive Attendance have the added bonus of facilitating a flexible, future ready learning environment at the same time.

By simply tracking students’ attendance throughout the school day, you’ll be better prepared for an emergency situation, since all students will be accounted for when exiting or entering school buildings. In addition, consider implementing the use of a school bus tracking device so you will know where all buses, drivers and students are in the instance of an adverse event. Tracking technology can be a dependable prevention and safety tool for districts to implement. 


Keep an Eye on Digital Safety

Digital considerations have only recently become an integral part of student safety conversations. Understand - and train your staff on - the difference between (and importance of) privacy and security so you can safeguard against data breaches.

An IT solution that keeps your school and district-wide networks, firewalls and devices secure is invaluable. CIOs and CTOs should regularly maintain district technology infrastructure and monitor to prevent digital break-ins, viruses and other computer bugs

88% of public school officials reported that they controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours.

Provide Easy-Access Tip Lines

Gathering information is crucial for managing school safety. Set up an anonymous tip page on the district website, a phone number that people may call or an on-campus location to which individuals can report suspicious activity. Be sure to allow for anonymous reporting since individuals may feel less intimidated when reporting incognito – an especially important factor for students who may be reporting the activity of their peers.

Encouraging the reporting of suspicious behavior, whether heard, seen or written, can be a key way for schools and districts to collect information that may be of use in the future or could aid in the prevention of a planned event intended to cause harm. With this information available, school administrators can investigate further. Collecting information from sources is a great way to create a culture of communication that encourages and promotes speaking up when something seems out of place. Speaking of which...


Keep All Lines Open

On the subject of communication, district leaders must also keep in mind the power of regular safety-based communication. By cultivating communities that promote safety and trust, educational environments can become connected places to teach and learn. Consider creating a school security committee to gain input, support and advice from community leaders, board members, administrators and area law enforcement professionals. Based on this knowledge, construct a strategic security plan for your district. When it comes to your district’s crisis and emergency plans, review and update them each year, and make sure staff and educators are well rehearsed and prepared to follow them.
Additionally, districts should prepare communication plans for emergency events. Having an alert system that uses email, calling and texting options to alert parents, students, staff and educators of events happening on campus can be a great communication tool. Whether communicating in a crisis situation, sending out a severe storm or tornado warning notification, or alerting parents that the school is closed due to winter weather conditions, an effective, real-time communication technology is imperative for districts of all sizes. 

By implementing technology and proactive security measures, districts can better ensure that learning remains the number one priority.

You surely know by now that technology alone will not prevent students from encountering safety issues and possible emergency, disaster or crisis situations. But  having a plan and the right tools in place to avoid such circumstances is key. Keep communication lines open and develop an educational environment that takes proactive security measures. When it comes to security in your schools, never be complacent. Always consider alternative methods to better protect and prepare students for disasters and events that may occur.
Building a trusting environment among all stakeholders within the district will help create a supportive educational culture in which students can succeed. By implementing technology and proactive security measures, districts can better ensure that learning and the education of students remains the number one priority, unobstructed by the apprehension of unfortunate and unforeseen events. 

To learn more about how Skyward is helping school districts keep their students and data safe, contact us today. 


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