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School Safety

Welcome to FindLaw's School Safety section. Every student deserves a safe learning space. With the help of law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Education, public schools across the country are making school safety a top priority. Many K-12 school districts have taken steps to create a supportive learning environment. These environments allow students to focus on their studies without fear.

This section provides an overview of school safety laws. It contains information on school violence and weapons at school. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in schools across America. This section also provides information about schools' authority to administer medications and liability. It also contains information on enforcing school safety policies.

School Safety Issues at a Glance

Safe schools start with comprehensive school safety plans. These plans involve school personnel and school resource officers. Sometimes, they might involve homeland security experts. School systems take emergency preparedness very seriously. From threat assessments to emergency response, schools are ready to handle different situations.

There are many ways in which a student may face safety issues at school. Here are the main types of safety issues for most schools:

  • Bullying: This is a major concern. Many school massacres have traced bullying as the initial spark. Bullying can significantly impact a student's ability to learn and thrive. Social media and mobile devices have only increased the harmful impacts of cyberbullying. Bullying measures may now contain cybersecurity measures, as well.
  • Premises liability: Schools must maintain a reasonably safe environment. This is similar to homes and businesses. This means they must maintain the upkeep of the premises. If there are any hazards, the school could be liable for any injuries resulting from the hazard.
  • School-related product safety: Are the lunch trays lined with a dangerous level of Bisphenol A (BPA)? Are items in the science lab safe for students to use?
  • Teachers and administrators: School staff must be aware of safety hazards. They also must be in tune with student concerns. Teachers need to keep an eye out for any actions by students or staff that may compromise student safety.
  • First Amendment issues: Students have the right to free speech and expression. This only is up to a certain point. Students may not act in a way that compromises another student's safety or ability to learn.

School Violence

Unfortunately, mass shootings in schools have become somewhat common. Consider the tragic massacres in Littleton, CO (Columbine) in 1999. Also, consider the Newtown, CT tragedy (Sandy Hook) in 2012. Both incidents involved troubled teens targeted by bullies. They also suffered from mental health disorders. Preventing these tragedies has become of utmost importance in America.

This can be quite difficult because many schools have open campuses. Regularly checking students' belongings is also impractical. But many schools have put metal detectors at school entrances. Some have removed school lockers. Most have implemented zero-tolerance policies for weapons found at school.

For instance, a student's mere mention of a bomb or firearm can lead to expulsion. It could also lead to a call to the local police, regardless of the student's actual intentions. The stakes are very high in these situations, so everyone must use caution.

Violence prevention programs and supportive school initiatives help improve the school environment. Plus, school-based mental health services and school psychologists play crucial roles. They help treat and aid at-risk students.

Weapons

Weapons have no place on school grounds. School security teams and law enforcement agencies work together to keep them out. When a school becomes aware of a threat, it performs a threat assessment. School resource officers are often part of local law enforcement. They are key players in this process. They take threats in the school building very seriously.

Federal zero-tolerance policies govern students who attempt to bring weapons to school. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 codifies this law, making it a federal crime. School administrators may search a student's belongings. They can only do so if they have a reasonable suspicion that the student is in possession of a weapon.

Medications

State and local laws generally govern medication at school. These rules state how and when schools may administer medications to students. Many of these laws shield teachers, school nurses, and other staff from liability. They do this through sovereign immunity laws. Most schools also need students to show proof of certain immunizations before enrollment.

Students With Disabilities

Medication can be essential for students with disabilities or health needs. But ensuring that only the right school personnel handle these medications is essential. During the school year, schools follow strict guidelines on handling and storing medications. This ensures the safety and well-being of all students.

Schools ensure accessible school grounds for students with disabilities for related and other services when needed. They also might offer tailored emergency planning and support for students with disabilities. It's essential for these students to have a supportive learning environment.

Liability for School Injuries

Understanding liability is crucial when a student gets injured at school. Generally, a student might hold a public school liable if they prove negligence. Examples of negligence might be failing to maintain equipment. Another is if school employees fail to supervise students properly. The specifics can change based on the circumstances.

Safety During Field Trips and Team Events

Field trips and sports events, especially out of state, need extra safety measures. Schools ensure transportation safety, proper chaperoning, and clear communication with parents. They might hold a pre-trip briefing. This briefing may cover emergency responses and code of conduct enforcement. These meetings help ensure that the school community is on the same page.

School safety also doesn't stop when the school day or year ends. Extracurricular and summer programs have safety guidelines, too. Children receive supervision during activities. Emergency operation plans remain in place. Finally, communication stays open between the school and parents. This helps ensure that everyone remains informed and safe.

Enforcing School Safety Policies

Schools have several methods to ensure a safe school climate:

  • Safety training (like drills) prepares students for school emergencies. This could include natural disasters like fires or tornadoes. It could also include active shooter lockdowns
  • Staff training keeps educators updated on the latest safety protocols. They may also inform educators or train them on the use of school safety resources
  • Security guards may watch school grounds and access points
  • Schools keep medical records confidential, ensuring student privacy rights
  • Schools may distribute classroom medical toolkits to handle minor injuries or emergencies
  • School administrators will administer school discipline. They will enforce discipline policies on students who do not follow the code of conduct. These students may endure consequences for endangering other students or school staff
  • Schools may create additional safety programs and initiatives. These programs may aim to educate students and prevent violent events. These programs might involve public safety community members, like stakeholders in the community. The school might ask to collaborate with law enforcement or advocacy groups for technical assistance

Enforcing school safety policies was even more critical during the pandemic. Schools worked with providers to offer essential tools and resources. These helped with both the physical health and mental well-being of students.

There are also concerns about the added stress of these challenging times on America's youth. Some schools integrate suicide prevention strategies into safety protocols. These strategies help support the student's well-being.

Click on a link below if you would like to learn more about school safety and the law.

You may also wish to consult an education law attorney for more information on school safety issues.

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