OSPI School Safety Tips for December 2022

Mike Donlin, Program Supervisor, School Safety Center, OSPI
Dec 01, 2022

Safety blog

This will be my last AWSP School Safety Blog. I am retiring as of December 31, 2022. I have been involved in K-12 education since…. well, let’s just say it’s been a long time. It has been a fulfilling, powerful journey. It has been interesting, as well.  A recent conversation underscores just a part of what has made it interesting.

It was during a meeting. A colleague from across the state noted that it seemed to them that, with all our work on school safety, we really haven’t made much progress. We are still dealing with many of the same issues year after year.

I had a “Yes, but…” moment. 

Back in the day, about the only safety-related thing schools did was to have a fire drill now and then. There were bullies around, but schools were much less involved in stopping bullying; discipline, perhaps, but no anti-bullying programs. Weapons in school? (Does that include my Boy Scout knife?) The list goes on and on. 

 Things changed. Local, regional, national, and world events took place which impacted everything we do, both in school and out. Our overall, national climate and culture changed. Politics changed. Technologies changed the way we do and see things; they changed the way our young people interact with the world and with one another. COVID changed things in ways we were not prepared for. And throughout all of this change, our understanding of how all of this affects our youth also changed. We do not live in not the same world in which most of us grew up.

In terms of school safety, and in light of all these changes, we talk about prevention, mitigation, protection, response, and recovery. I often add that the one critical component which is alluded to but needs to be stated aloud, is awareness. We can’t prevent, mitigate, protect, respond, or recover if we are not aware of the threats and hazards, the risks of our new ways of life. I suspect that therein lies the basis for my colleague’s comment. Experiences over recent years – decades – have increased our awareness of the dangers our schools face every day.

There is one more component to mention, as well. It’s the “shiny whistle” factor. Each new awareness and each new research finding often leads to “the solution.” Do this and all will be fine – or at least begin to get better. As a result, schools are called on to train on this; implement that. Buy this; use that. The shiny whistles change frequently. It also comes with a cost, but that cost is not (adequately) funded. This is not to say that these shiny whistles are not useful, and excellent often. It is to say that they are many, overlapping, varied, expensive, etc. They are also soon overshadowed by the next, new, shiny whistle.

Back to the “Yes, but…”  It sometimes does feel like we haven’t made much progress around school safety. But we have. We are much more aware. We have a much better understanding of issues, risks, threats, and hazards. We are approaching – approaching – a better understanding that none of those things occur in a silo, that they are all interconnected in one way or another. As a result, we are becoming ever more prepared to handle previously unknown situations and issues. The work does not stop, however. It will never be done. We will never be done. 

But the work of school safety is in good hands. Excellent hands. Thank you for all that you do every day to keep our students and staff safe.

As 2022 comes to a close, I will say goodbye for now. Please find time to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Enjoy the holiday season ahead of us. And plan for a joyful, peaceful 2023 New Year

Aloha pumehana! A hui ho!

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