Ten Essential Actions to Improve School Safety: Guidance for Montana Schools

This guidance document was developed in partnership with the Montana School Safety Advisory Committee in 2020. It was adapted from on a report published by the Department of Justice.  

The Montana School Safety Advisory Committee and the Office of Public Instruction will continue to add resources to this page to provide Montana schools with the tools they need to keep schools safe and connected. 

 

Establish and maintain a positive school climate

Creating a positive school climate is one of the most important steps a school can take to improving school safety. A positive school climate emphasizes connectedness and equality, with every student and staff member feeling like a valued member of the school community. Providing time for students to develop positive relationships with school staff and embracing the cultural beliefs and values of each student can help create a positive school climate. 

Resources:

Establish a multi-tiered system of support for meeting student behavioral health needs

By establishing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), schools can address the range of behavioral health needs of students. School-wide Tier 1 supports can positively impact the wellbeing of all students and help prevent behavioral health concerns from developing. When behavioral health concerns do arise, having the necessary partnerships and protocols in place to appropriately respond to the student’s changing level of need across the MTSS framework (Tier 2 and Tier 3) is essential to making school safer.

Resources: 

Actively identify students and staff in need of support

When a student or staff member displays or reports concerning behaviors it is important school have protocols in place to access the potential safety rick and respond quickly and appropriately. Schools are encouraged to form a multidisciplinary team and establish standard procedures, such as a threat assessment or school-wide screening protocols, to identify students and staff who may be experiencing distress and link them to the supports necessary to keep everyone safe. Schools can also post state and national crisis lines in highly visible places to improve school safety. 

Resources: 

Establish and maintain accessible and supportive communication channels

Schools can improve safety by creating bidirectional communication channels between the school and the community. It is important students, families, and staff know who to contact if they observe any perceived threats to school safety, including the potential of a student or staff member to harm him/herself or others. Some schools have established anonymous reporting systems or tip lines, where anyone can report a concern at any time.

Implement policies for monitoring and responding to online and social medial concerns

Students and staff are more than likely spending an increasing amount of time online during and outside of school hours. Schools are encouraged to develop policies to prevent and address cyber bullying and other online behaviors that may pose a risk to school safety. Schools are also encouraged to routinely update those policies as technology and online behaviors change, and to involve students in the process of developing these policies.

Resources:

Develop a comprehensive school emergency operations plan

A comprehensive school emergency operations plan (EOP) is foundational to improving school safety. EOPs should begin with a risk and resource assessment to identify potential safety threats and existing resources to help address those threats. It is important to establish a multidisciplinary team of people to conduct the assessments and develop a plan for prioritizing potential threats. Creating a county-wide team can help ensure all available skills and resources are utilized.

Resources:

Coordinate with Local Emergency Planning Committees and Local and Tribal Health Departments

Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and local and tribal health departments are important partners for preventing and responding to school safety threats, especially natural disasters. Schools are encouraged to include LEPCs local and tribal health departments in their EOPs and utilize the emergency preparedness and recovery services that may be available.

Resources:

Coordinate with community first responders and local and tribal law enforcement

It is important schools communicate with those who will respond in an emergency situation before an emergency takes place. Schools are encouraged to involve first responders and local and tribal law enforcement in the development of their EOP and disaster drill trainings. Establishing methods for communication before, during, and after an emergency is important for minimizing harm.

Resources:

Practice campus, building, and classroom security

There is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution for school security and decisions for implementing security measures should be informed by a risk assessment and part of the school EOP. At a minimum, it is recommended schools take steps to make it easy to find and navigate to specific locations within a school campus. One example of this is implementing a classroom numbering system that is easily visible from inside and outside of the school building(s).

Resources:

  • Site Assessment: A site assessment examines the safety, accessibility, and emergency preparedness of school buildings and grounds.

Conduct school disaster drills

Practicing disaster drills can better prepare students and staff to follow procedures and safely react in emergency situations. Schools are encouraged to use their EOP to inform their plan for carrying out disaster drills. It is also important to consider who participates in what drills; it may not be beneficial to have students participate in all drills.

Resources: