For teachers and administration alike, the new school year is a whirlwind of activity as schedules are fine-tuned and classrooms are prepped. Add in a national teacher shortage and a post-pandemic surge in student mental health issues, and administrators would be forgiven for wishing summer break were just beginning. But knowledge, concrete strategies, and effective communication channels can be implemented to position schools for a safe and successful year. In this article, you’ll learn about three key risk areas schools are faced with, along with actions they can implement to mitigate threats proactively.
1. Protecting student mental health
The pandemic shined a light on children’s mental health in the U.S., as families and physicians struggled to help kids whose lives had been turned upside down by school closures and quarantines. But in reality, student mental health was already a crisis before the pandemic; data reaching back to 2012 found that while one out of five children had a mental disorder, only 20 percent of those kids received treatment.
What can schools do to support student mental health? Our related article, Supporting K-12 student mental health: a 7-step framework for schools, offers a great place to start. In it, we explore the scope of the problem and then provide solutions based on Cornell Mental Health’s integrated public health approach. The steps include:
- Fostering a healthy educational environment
- Promoting social connectedness and resilience
- Promoting help-seeking behaviors and minimizing stigma
- Helping identify students in need of support
- Adjusting approach to intervention and utilizing health resources
- Delivering coordinated crisis management
- Restricting access to means of violence
“Student mental health was already a crisis before the pandemic; data reaching back to 2012 found that while one out of five children had a mental disorder, only 20 percent of those kids received treatment.”
2. Learning to assess threats
“Prevention must start before there is a gunman at the school door.”
This is the motto behind the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG), a set of practices developed by researchers at the University of Virginia to help schools identify problematic behavior before a student becomes violent. Threat assessment teaches school leaders to evaluate threats proactively. For more information on CSTAG and implementing a threat assessment, check out our article Effective threat assessments for schools: a 5-step framework.
“Research shows that when the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines are implemented correctly, 99 percent of threats are averted, and those that were carried out involved no serious injury.”
CSTAG’s threat assessment approach is centered around five steps:
- Evaluate the threat.
- Attempt to resolve the threat.
- Respond to a substantive threat.
- Conduct a safety evaluation for substantive, serious threats.
- Implement and monitor the safety plan.
3. Planning ahead for violent events and crises
The last decade has shown a dramatic increase in the number of violent events occurring in school buildings and on campuses, with the 2021–2022 school year earning notoriety as the deadliest year in history for U.S. schools. According to USA Today, our country experienced “93 school shootings with casualties at public and private elementary and secondary schools during the last school year, increasing from 11 a decade ago.”
Our related article, Averting the threat of violence in schools and public entities: 4 steps to emergency preparedness planning, will give you detailed information on how to get started with emergency planning, including:
- Build a team with management support.
- Map out the planning process and execute key tasks.
- Communicate and train.
- Audit and update regularly.
Implementing the measures discussed in these three sections can help decrease the potential for violence at schools. Preparation, training, and communication are the keys to knowing how to respond, should the worst occur.
“The last decade has shown a dramatic increase in the number of violent events occurring in school buildings and on campuses, with the 2021–2022 school year earning notoriety as the deadliest year in history for U.S. schools.”
Staying ahead of threats in a constantly changing landscape
At Liberty Mutual we are here, as your partner, to help make schools safer and proactively implement strategies to support administrators, students, and the communities we all support. Having processes, training, and updated plans in place is key to ensuring everybody is prepared for an unexpected event.
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