Survivor Mentality

May 01, 2002 5 min read
What sort of steps should educators take to keep kids safe?

There are two types of school administrators, says Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit advocacy group: “Those who have faced a crisis and those who are about to.”

Although statistics show that school violence is declining, more than half of all public schools reported one or more incidents of crime or violence to law enforcement officials in the 1996-97 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent data, collected in its Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey. Theft, vandalism, and fistfights were among schools’ most common complaints. Add to this medical emergencies provoked by strenuous sports and opportunities for kids to get into trouble on class trips, and school begins to look a little hazardous to students’ health.

So what sort of steps should educators take to keep kids safe? Following are some measures that schools have implemented in recent months.


Where: North Carolina.

Threat: School shooters. The 1999 Columbine attacks claimed the lives of 14 students and one teacher, and though no school has suffered a shooting of that magnitude since, more than 16,000 students were disciplined for possession or use of a gun in the 1996-97 school year. Not knowing how to react to a shooter can send a school into further chaos.

Program: In January, North Carolina asked its 2,042 public schools to assemble emergency kits that include school blueprints, maps of evacuation routes, rosters of students and staff, coordinates for landing a helicopter on the premises, codes to shut off alarms and power, and contact information for key personnel. The state attorney’s office, which is subsidizing the effort, has provided schools with lockboxes, more than 2,000 cell phones, and instructional videos on managing crises. State officials also are encouraging schools to coordinate emergency response plans with local law-enforcement officials and other emergency personnel.

Cost: $100,000 of government money to subsidize and promote the program, plus another $50 or so from each school’s own funds to assemble the materials.

Feedback: David Robinet, a security official at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, thinks the kits are a good idea. “This is a way of standardizing the whole state, so a ‘code blue’ here is the same thing in the next town over,” he says.


Where: Ohio.

Threat: Field trip emergencies. A teacher may not have time to find a pay phone if a student has an asthma attack or suffers a concussion while off campus.

Program: In October, the Ohio Parent-Teacher Association reviewed the recent accidental deaths of several students around the state and decided to lobby for a requirement that adults who take kids outside a school building must carry a communication device. Although the state has not approved such legislation yet, some Ohio towns already are implementing unofficial cell phone distribution programs. For example, in Brooklyn, the city council has given phones to school guards, and local schools have distributed approximately 20 others to coaches.

Cost: $0. Citizens and a few companies donate the cell phones, and in accordance with a 1997 Federal Communications Commission ruling, the emergency phone call is free.

Feedback: Kathleen Pucci, the city council member who introduced the idea in Brooklyn, calls the move “a no-brainer.” She explains, “The first link in the survival chain is 9-1-1.”


Where: Pennsylvania.

Threat: Bad bus rides. Students who take the bus to school can be jeopardized by irresponsible driving and hijacking. Although the latter sounds far-fetched, it actually happened to a group of Pennsylvania children in January when bus driver Otto Nuss, armed with a loaded rifle, took them for an unexpected joy ride to a suburb of Washington, D.C., before turning himself in. For six hours, parents and school officials had no idea where the children were.

Program: Complaints from parents about off-schedule buses, not safety concerns, prompted Joe Winkler to invent a vehicle-tracking computer program two years ago. His company, Everyday Wireless, currently is testing his Here Comes the Bus software in the Wilson and Unionville-Chadds Ford school districts. A wireless transmitter installed in each bus sends information via satellite to a computer at the destination school, as well as to boxes in students’ homes. Families can tell how many miles away the bus is and when it will arrive. The school can track the location and speed of all buses within a 10- to 15-mile radius.

Cost: $3,000 to $5,000 for the software, plus $500 per bus to install transmitters. Each family pays $85 a year to have a bus notification receiver in its home. If 10 percent of student riders subscribe to the monitoring system, Everyday Wireless knocks 80 percent off the school’s bill.

Feedback: “You want to know that your drivers are doing a good job,” says Brian Loncar, transportation supervisor for the Wilson School District.


Where: California.

Threat: Cardiac arrest. Although young people are not the most likely candidates for heart disease, the adrenaline increase that student athletes experience during activity, combined with drug use or dehydration, can make them susceptible to heart attacks. Without treatment, death can occur in less than 10 minutes.

Program: After nearly two years of deliberation, the Los Angeles Unified School District is distributing automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, to its 60 high schools; it plans to outfit area middle schools with the devices next. An AED monitors heart rate and delivers an electric shock to the heart of a person experiencing cardiac arrest, restoring a normal rhythm.

Cost: $2,800 for each defibrillator. American Heart Association instructors have provided school nurses with free instruction in operating the devices, and the nurses are training other school personnel.

Feedback: “Recognizing and using the available technology is an important step, and if we can save one life, I think that’s pretty good,” says Pete Anderson, director of LAUSD’s Office of Emergency Services.

—Rose Gordon