Moving is a massive undertaking. In addition to packing up your current house and searching for a new one, you also need to find a school for your kids. Whether you’ve lived in the same community for years or your family has moved a dozen times, the task of choosing the right school can be daunting.
Start by researching the school online, meeting with the principal, and talking to other parents. Then follow these three steps to get a feel for the safety of the school.
1. Find out about crime in the area.
Use sites like CrimeMapping and CrimeReports to determine what type of crime has been reported in the area surrounding the school. Sites like these can also tell you where registered sex offenders live and offer you the opportunity to sign up for crime alerts. It’s not a bad idea to speak with a local law enforcement officer to gauge whether crime is a problem in the neighborhood. Then, when you feel your child is mature enough to handle the information, speak frankly with him or her about crimes and other dangers.
2. Visit the school.
Make an appointment with the principal to visit the school. We’ve outlined elements you should look for and questions to ask either the principal, tour guide, or other parents who have kids currently attending the school. Examine access to the school.
What precautions are used to help prevent unauthorized people from entering the school?
Are there security cameras at the entrances and exits, as well as throughout the school?
Does the school use an intercom and video system to verify the identity of those who want to enter the school?
How easy was it for you to get into the school?
If your child will attend a before or after school program, find out how entrances and exits are monitored during those hours.
Find out how visitors are handled.
What is the sign-in procedure for visitors? Do visitors have to show identification or get a visitor’s badge?
If the school uses volunteers, how are they screened? Do volunteers undergo background checks? If so, how often are the background checks done, and what crimes do they include?
Did faculty and staff recognize you as a visitor? Did they challenge you or ask if you needed help?
Evaluate emergency procedures.
Can you review the school’s written policies and procedures related to crisis preparedness, and overall safety and security?
Does the school have an up to date evacuation plan? How often is the plan practiced?
Is there an official lockdown procedure? Are lockdown drills conducted periodically?
Does the school use a text message solution, like e2Campus, to alert parents of safety and security events?
How does the administration communicate safety and security procedures and alerts to students?
Does the school employ a security guard or have a school resource officer assigned to this role?
Review the code of conduct.
What is the school’s official philosophy with regard to discipline? How do you feel about the school’s approach to discipline?
Does the code of conduct outline your responsibilities as a parent?
How are basic disciplinary policies communicated to students?
Does the school have a thorough anti-bullying policy?
What conduct can result in suspension or expulsion? Is there a discipline matrix or clear levels of disciplinary responses to student behavior?
Do students with behavior problems have access to in-school counseling?
3. Make a decision.
Now that you’ve gathered information about crime in the area and evaluated the school from various angles, it’s time to decide whether or not you’re going to enroll your child. If you’re not satisfied with your findings, or everything checks out okay but you don’t have a good “feeling” about the school, you might want to search for another one. On the other hand, if you’re happy with the school, go ahead and register your child. Then, talk to your child and other parents on a regular basis to identify safety and security challenges before they escalate into major problems.
Keep in mind that no school is 100 percent safe, but thoroughly researching a school before your enroll your child can not only help you feel more confident about your decision, it can also alert you to possible security weaknesses you might bring up with school leaders.
Written by Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics. Learn more