Incorporate Inclusivity into Your School Safety Plan

Dec 14, 2023 4:55:18 PM


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a prominent topic in K-12 education, but it is often not thought of when designing a school safety plan, despite regular reminders of the need for well-organized responses to safety incidents.  

There is an alarming rate of K-12 safety incidents in U.S. schools. According to a 2023 study by CENTEGIX, the rate has continued to climb.

It is imperative that all students and staff are protected. School safety plans need to account for and include people with disabilities and multilingual learners. Nationally, there are 7.3 million students with disabilities in K-12 public schools.

Many students with disabilities worry about being left behind in an emergency, as standard emergency drills are often not designed with their needs in mind. When safety plans don't specifically include students and staff with disabilities or consider potential language barriers, many people are left feeling more vulnerable.

As a former educator and administrator of more than 20 years and a current Chief Development Officer at CENTEGIX, a safety technology company, I have seen how much inclusive safety planning impacts schools. Based on my experiences, I have identified six ways schools and districts can create more inclusive school safety plans.

Provide Information in Preferred Languages
Multilingual learners make up
more than 10% of the U.S. public school population, and this demographic of students is expected to continue to grow. In some states, such as Texas and California, multilingual learners make up an even larger share of the student population. When developing an emergency plan, consider the languages spoken by students and families in the district.

Those who do not use English as their primary language need easy access to emergency resources in their most comfortable language — including planning materials and emergency-in-progress resources and information.

Consider Accessibility and Mobility Needs
Students and staff who use movement and ability tools like walking aids and wheelchairs must feel safe and empowered — the same for those with differing ability levels and needs. For students with mobility needs, consider how they will exit higher-level floors if elevators are compromised.

Include additional voices who can provide insight into preparing to assist students with mobility needs. Working with a disability specialist can be a great way to gain a new perspective on your emergency plan. Also, be sure to include students and caregivers of students with disabilities in your planning conversations, as they can offer valuable input on how best to meet these needs in an emergency. Asking instead of assuming what students and staff with disabilities may need can help you make sure you’re not missing the mark.

Think About Neurodiversity in Your Community and Any Needed Accommodations
Neurodiversity should be part of your considerations when incorporating inclusivity into your school safety plan.

For example, remaining still and quiet may be challenging for some students. Sounds, like alarms, can also be overstimulating for some students. Training staff and local responders on students’ needs is essential for including all students in your safety planning and response.

Incorporate Both Audio and Visual Alerts
Most alert systems are auditory, making it difficult for people in the deaf community or with hearing loss to know what is going on. A plan that includes visual emergency cues is crucial.

For students who are blind or have visual impairments, consider any assistance they may need during an emergency. While these students may be able to hear the alert announcements, schools should ensure they’re confident navigating to the appropriate place on campus in case of an emergency. If a student uses a service animal, consider special preparations for the service animal in case of an emergency.

Schools must include every student in practice exercises.

Take a Multi-Sensory Approach
Emergency response plans must account for the community members with varying levels of sensory perception. Flashing lights and physical indicators must accompany audible alarms. A multi-sensory approach makes sure all students are alerted to an emergency quickly. In an emergency, seconds count. A multi-sensory system can help prevent dangerous delays in important alerts instantly reaching all students.

Record and Collect Incident Data for Continuous Improvements
Collect incident data whenever someone activates an alert (name, alert type, location, time, and date), so your team can compare the data to scan for implicit bias, which can be addressed individually, with school policy, or through DEI training and workshops. Make inclusivity part of the culture of safety in the district. Unify leaders, staff, and sites around incorporating inclusivity in safety planning, preparation, and response.

Schools are safer for all students and staff when districts incorporate inclusivity in safety planning. School safety planning should take into account the needs of all learners. To make school safety more inclusive, district leaders need to consider the languages spoken, address any mobility needs, incorporate audio and visual alerts, and take a multi-sensory approach.

Making a school safety plan inclusive is an ongoing process, and there are always opportunities to improve the plan and consider ways to make emergency planning and response more inclusive. Recording incident data can allow districts to learn from any issues and improve to address gaps in inclusivity.

When schools create inclusive safety plans, it helps all students and staff feel considered, valued, and confident in an emergency.

Dr. Roderick Sams

Dr. Roderick Sams is the Chief Development Officer for CENTEGIX, which provides wearable safety technology provider for K-12 education. Before joining CENTEGIX, Dr. Sams served as an educator and school administrator for more than 20 years.

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