Social media safety, how schools respond to a campus threat, providing social and emotional support for students and weapon safety were among the topics discussed during a virtual town hall hosted Feb. 15 by the Edmonds School District.
“One of the most powerful tools that we deal with in schools, both positively and negatively, is social media and the far-reaching aspect that it has on our students’ lives,” said Layne Erdman, who is the school district’s safety, security and emergency preparedness specialist.
District staff provided families with several tips for ensuring students stay safe on social media. These include being aware of age restrictions and respecting the rules that apps have in place for membership; making a household rule for parental approval of when and how social media is used; and having discussions with children to teach them about what is acceptable and unacceptable in posts.
“This is the biggest thing that we deal with because kids often say things that they don’t really mean but they say it in emotion and anger and they don’t understand the impacts of the posts that they’re making, Erdman added, “so we really need to help educate them about that process.”
Parents were advised to be aware of the various social media platforms kids use. It was also recommended they both befriend and follow all of their children’s social media accounts as a way to monitor the conversations that kids are exposed to and engaging in with their peers. In addition, parents should make sure their children’s profiles are always set to private for security reasons.
It’s crucial that children are taught not to post personal information online about their age, school, address, telephone number or Social Security number. “I can tell you we see so many kids that tell us everything about their life and it really is dangerous for their identity theft later on,” Erdman said.
He added that most importantly, parents should know what their kids are doing online. “The biggest thing is, don’t be afraid to check on your children,” Erdman said. “Make sure you know what type of activity they’re seeing and exposed to so that you can have conversations with them about proper use of social media and how to make it an effective tool.”
The school district provided a list of some of the most popular social media sites and services currently in use that parents to be aware of, including some commonly used in other countries and languages.
It was noted that the district has the ability to monitor the online activity of individual students on school-issued computers if there is a specific concern identified. It can also provide parents with information about what their child is searching for online when using district-owned computers. “We really do this when we have concerns or alert or a case comes up that we need to look at to see if there was some kind of link or information there,” Erdman said.
In addition, the district also contracts with a school safety support service that can place a geofence over each school and obtain information that is being transmitted and accessed publicly on devices via the internet. The computerized safety service is primarily used to search for possible suicidal ideations, threats made against the school, and information about weapons or illegal drugs.
Panelists stressed the importance of communicating a perceived concern. The Edmonds School District has an anonymous tip line that parents and students can use to confidentially report concerns they may have regarding various safety issues such as information about a threat, a weapon or drugs at school, if someone is being bullied or harassed, and the mental health of a friend.
Safety concerns can be submitted 24/7 by calling or texting 425-551-7393, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website http://1480.alert1.us/. Any alerts received are logged into a tracking system that notifies administrators so that they can investigate and then determine the appropriate action(s) to be taken, which may also include involving law enforcement if deemed appropriate.
Physical safety measures that district schools use incorporate the concepts of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and also concentric circles of protection.
“Crime prevention through environmental design is really about seeing what is going on around you,” Erdman said. It involves construction techniques that maintain open sightlines, clear access to doorways, barriers to parking lots, and appropriate landscaping around the buildings and properties. He added that the district always takes those factors into consideration when constructing its schools.
Concentric circles of protection provide considerations for employing different levels of safety measures around physical locations. Those include initially deterring potential harm through the use of CPTED principles, fencing, signage and other communications regarding campus security measures.
Schools also use systems such as cameras and alarm systems to help detect what is going on around campus and who is attempting to access the property. Implements that can delay entry to buildings are also utilized such as locked doors and windows, safety glass and a visitor management system that can help identify who is accessing or attempting to enter schools.
There are protocols in place at schools for responding to various safety concerns, such as drills for evacuation or sheltering in place and emergency preparedness plans in the event of a campus lockdown.
“What we’re doing or protecting is the inner circle, it’s our students, it’s our staff, our structural facilities, it’s the financial investments that you as a community make in our education,” Erdman said. “And as we look at how do we make our schools safer we look at all those different layers” and principles for concentric circles of protection.
Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab noted all potential threats to school campuses and student safety are taken seriously. “It’s really important to know that when we address threats we don’t make decisions about how to handle those threats in isolation,” he said. “All potential threats to the safety of our students, staff and school communities are addressed in consultation with district staff and law enforcement” in order to investigate and determine what protective steps are necessary.
Law enforcement and district staff emphasized several times that it’s important for students, parents and staff to report, in a timely manner, if they see or hear of something they believe might be a potential threat to student and campus safety.
The school district has had a number of incidents with students this year involving weapons. “Working with our police partners, we have been able to handle (all of those) very safely and very successfully to ensure that all students and staff are safe,” Schwab said.
Law enforcement personnel and district staff noted that utilizing locked and secured storage of any household firearms, along with storing ammunition separately from firearms, are among the most important best practices and safety measures that can be taken to prevent incidents from happening. It was recommended that parents educate their children about gun safety and what to do if they should find or have access to one. Additional firearm safety tips, resources and information can also be found online at Project ChildSafe.
When threats are communicated electronically, the district’s social media monitoring services are utilized to help identify those who may have information about the threat or who may be responsible for posting the threat.
“As soon as we’re able to share information with our school communities we always want to communicate what is going on,” Schwab noted. “Especially in the case of social media threats, however, this can be a challenge to communicate when information is also being shared via social media networks – those things tend to move at the speed of light.”
Erdman said that the district learns about most threats because of the diligent awareness of students and/or parents who report potential safety issues they see or hear about.
If it’s determined that a threat warrants increased campus security there are several measures the district can employ including the presence of additional district security and administrative staff, a police presence and even school closure if necessary. All decisions made about potentially closing a school due to the nature of a threat received are made in consultation with law enforcement.
If a student or staff member is identified as having made a safety threat, the district has threat assessment procedures in place for discipline and also to communicate with family members and staff who know them in an attempt to better understand what may have motivated or contributed to making the threat. “This process can help the school know how to better protect the safety of students and staff and also provide the specific supports to the student who made the threat,” Schwab added.
He also noted that conducting school safety drills regularly for students and staff plays an important role in “being proactively prepared” for threats. “Safety drills and preparation for the event that we hope never happens in our schools is critical so that in a true emergency students and staff will know what to do and how to react because we have prepared and practiced,” Schwab said.
The district has added additional safety resources to support staff and students this year, including school social workers and prevention intervention specialists to help students experiencing issues of substance use and abuse. There are also family resource advocates to assist students and families who are experiencing housing or food insecurity and other issues that may impact their ability to engage at school.
In addition, school security coordinator positions are now in place at all of the district’s high schools. “This position is not intended to replicate a school resource officer, the position we eliminated in the spring of 2020,” Schwab said. Their duties and responsibilities include helping to manage campus safety by establishing relationships and building rapport with students and staff while also assisting school principals with campus supervision efforts.
Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen said the district has also focused this year on providing students with additional resources for social and emotional support amid the ongoing difficulties they may be experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to in-person learning.
Those include providing opportunities that are inclusive, equitable, make students feel welcome and can assist in building relationships. “Really focusing on creating and nurturing a sense of belonging and community in our schools” is crucial, Geaslen said, along with a focus on kindness and compassion. She added that providing various methods and numerous opportunities for students to express their voices is also a critical component to providing them with social and emotional support, and strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety.
“There’s mental health and services in our schools,” Geaslen said, and the district also contracts with Care Solace to help connect students and parents with additional mental health support services if needed.
Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas noted that the district plans to regularly hold additional such town hall meetings for students and parents in the future concerning safety and other important issues.
— By Nathan Blackwell