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Safety First

Evan Abramson and Christine Burton suggest five online safety protocols every school district should be using

Here are five steps that all districts should take when implementing student safety procedures and protocols for 1:1 devices and online access.

With eight schools, 5,000 students, and a 1:1 Chromebook initiative across all grades, our high-performing district takes student safety very seriously. Our job is to give them anytime, anywhere access to information, but we also need to keep them protected and safe both in school and off campus.

After all, a school’s responsibility extends well beyond the traditional school day. This is especially true for districts that hand out devices to students, knowing that they need guidance and support along their digital journeys. To ensure that our students are using these devices responsibly, detect any potential causes for concern, and support social and emotional learning, our district recently implemented a student safety platform.

The investment has already paid for itself in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. Last December, for example, we received an alert about a student who was in crisis and possibly considering suicide. The student discussed the issue online with peers—a conversation that immediately triggered an alert on our student safety platform.

We knew right away that we had a middle school student who needed our help and support. After getting the alert, our middle school principal immediately dispatched the information to the police. The intervention meant the child was able to get to a hospital during winter break—when school wasn’t even in session—to obtain the necessary mental health support.

Five Steps to Success
To ensure that our staff, board, parents, and community understand our district’s vision for student safety, we instituted these protocols, which all districts can use to develop their own safety plans:

1. Get the whole community involved. All principals and board members were involved with the platform selection process,and the local police department also played a role in those early meetings. We worked together to create a plan of policies and procedures. That way, any time an incident occurred, everyone would immediately know what to do and how to act upon it.

2. Invest in technology. By working in partnership with our surrounding community and implementing the student safety platform, we can effectively protect students. We understand that it takes a village to raise a child. Bringing in a product like this helps us all sleep at night, knowing full well that our students are protected.

3. Ask law enforcement what they need from you. We wanted our local police department to know and understand what we were doing when it came to student safety. In return, they gave us tips about what information they would need should an incident occur. That way, if a principal makes a call to local law enforcement, he or she will be prepared with the right information. This allows the police department to react quickly and come into the situation well informed about what’s going on.

4. Have a follow-up plan in place. Managing student safety isn’t a “set it and forget it” exercise. Our follow-up procedures include placing students on a monitoring list, having our guidance counselors/child psychologist conduct follow-up conversations with the students, and utilizing support groups. Collectively, we want to make sure these students aren’t showing signs of being at risk and let them know that there are always services available to them.

5. Don’t check out during the holidays. We have medical, health, and wellness professionals and guidance counselors who provide for our students’ wellness, but oftentimes when students are in crisis and in danger of harming themselves, it’s not in the middle of the school day. It happens after hours, during holidays, or other times they’re off campus. Keep this in mind as you develop your procedures and protocols, knowing that the most important call you answer may come at 4:00 a.m. on Christmas morning.

Meeting the Challenge Head On
Because all of our students have Chromebooks, they also have access to the internet. With this comes a great responsibility to provide a high level of safety that goes beyond firewalls and makes sure students aren’t visiting prohibited sites. It’s also about recognizing cries for help and responding quickly to them. As districts, we all have the opportunity to gain access to this information through student safety platforms and to truly get students the help that they need.

Evan Abramson is director of Technology and Dr. Christine Burtonis superintendent of Schools at Millburn Township Public School District in New Jersey.

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