Open letter from State School Superintendent Richard Woods to the state’s district educators throughout the state on school safety.
Each day we are entrusted with the safety of nearly 1.8 million students and hundreds of thousands of staff members who come through our doors. School safety is our top priority and responsibility. We are heartbroken for the students, educators and communities who have been impacted by acts of violence on school grounds, and I know you feel the same. We must take this time to review our own school safety procedures and plans and ensure our students and staff members are protected.
I am aware that numerous discussions surrounding school safety have occurred over the last several weeks, within your leadership teams and at RESA board of control meetings. I urge you to continue to reach out to local law enforcement, emergency management agencies, and my staff at GaDOE (Dr. Garry McGiboney – firstname.lastname@example.org, Cheryl Benefield – email@example.com Jeff Hodges – firstname.lastname@example.org) to gain their guidance, expertise, and support.
Recent incidents should serve as a reminder to all of us to establish, update, and practice school safety protocols and procedures. Your local emergency management experts can assist you in the development and implementation of your safe school plan. Additionally, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) can review your safe school plan.
Considering recent events, I request that you take this opportunity to examine your preparedness in the following areas.
- Facilities. Ensure facilities are secure and evaluate processes and procedures to ensure their security. Make sure security is prioritized in the design and construction of new facilities within your district.
- Visitors and suspicious activities. Evaluate your processes and procedures for handling visitors. Deliver training for educators, staff, and even students to report suspicious activities or incidents with students or peers that could quickly escalate and consider establishing and practicing front office safety procedures.
- Communication. Be sure protocols and processes are in place to clearly communicate with local emergency responders, parents and the community about emergency situations. Provide timely, clear, and accurate information and deliver them though different mediums (text alerts, emails, phone calls, or local media).
- Student Support Teams. Be sure that counselors, social workers, and other support staff members participate in the development of your safe school plan and are aware of school safety processes and have clear lines of communication with school leaders at all times.
- Partnerships. Beyond engaging local emergency responders, form strong partnerships and lines of communication with local agencies and organizations that can provide support and resources to enhance safety and security; for example, a local chapter of the American Red Cross may be able to provide training.
- School Climate. Continue to examine and have deep conversations around school climate data such as suspensions, office referrals, and attendance. Initiatives like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) provide support for ensuring a positive learning environment in our schools and classrooms. This is important because we know from research that one of the most effective school safety strategies is creating a school climate where students and staff members feel engaged and connected.
- State Supports. In addition to supporting PBIS, the Department offers Youth Mental Health First Aid training to school, safety assessments in partnership with GEMA, and a 24/7 School Safety Hotline — 1-877-SAY-STOP. Additionally, we co-sponsor the annual Safe Schools Conference with GEMA and the United States Attorney’s Office of Middle Georgia – this year’s conference is scheduled for June 26 to 28. This year’s Georgia Education Leadership Institute (GELI) will provide a pre-conference session dedicated to school safety with experts from GEMA sharing information about active shooter response and emergency planning. GELI will take place from September 16-18. On the Department’s School Safety webpage you will find numerous resources for schools pertaining directly to school safety. Also, follow our Twitter account dedicated to sharing school safety resources and information at @GaDOESafeSchool.
- Drills. In addition to fire and tornado drills, practice other drills such as intruder alerts. GEMA’s School Safety Training provides training in several areas related to emergency drills and situations.
Even though recent events certainly raise the issue to the forefront of public dialogue and discussion, school safety must continue to be an ongoing process and priority for us.
I deeply appreciate your work every day in support of our students and educators.
State School Superintendent