Each Catholic school is required to have a safety and crisis plan, according to the Manual of Policies and Regulations for Elementary and Secondary Catholic Schools of Arkansas.
School safety encompasses everything from classroom management to crisis situations. In the last few weeks, several events have taken place within our community and the world that remind our Catholic schools how important it is to have a school safety and crisis plan. It is not just important to have a plan but to constantly review and make updates as needed.
Since many safety and crisis situations could occur within a school, the plan has to be individualized for different situations. Schools have formed teams to assist them in establishing what their school plan should look like. The teams include a variety of disciplines within the school: the administration, teachers, custodians, parents, nurses and other medical personnel, firefighters, police, mental health personnel and others. The comprehensive safety and crisis plan includes four key components: preventing, preparing, responding and recovering.
These teams look at everything from the individual classrooms, the structure of the building, the land on which the school resides, as well as the local community. Their plans range from the mildest to the worst-case scenarios.
They look at ways to minimize both physical and psychological harm. They develop procedures for responding as quickly as possible and where they might goif they need to relocate. The schools practice drills. The teams develop plans of whom and how to communicate. And depending on the event that occurred, the recovery could be short-term or one that could be ongoing.
We also know that students, staff and parents can face emotional strains after a traumatic event. They might react right away or even after some time has passed. So the schools must be more aware of these reactions and behaviors, make adjustments and add support as needed. Then following any event, the team should evaluate and make any changes required to improve for the future.
Our school administrators have had more opportunities to attend professional development for school safety. Most recently, the private schools in Arkansas were included in the Safe Schools Initiative grant, which allowed them to receive reimbursement for expenditures that the school used to support their emergency plans. There are priorities for implementation, beginning with what they felt were the most important things to have in place within a school for safety.
The Safe Schools Initiative and our goal are for all of the schools in Arkansas to be safe places for the staff and students.
Theresa Hall is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Little Rock.
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