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School Safety Policies in Private Schools

Contributor: Jennifer Betts
teens in a private school

School safety policies in private schools play a vital role in ensuring the welfare of students, teachers and administrators alike. Are children in private schools really safer than those in public schools? Look at the statistics of a national report and judge for yourself.

Private vs. Public School Safety

In 2017, a joint report titled Indicators of School Crime and Safety was compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. This report released some rather disturbing information comparing violence and related issues in public and private schools.

Incidents Reported by Students Aged 12-18 in 2013-2015
Student Experience Public School Private School
Victim of hate related words (p. 162) 7.6% 2.8%
Gangs present in schools (p. 64) 11% 2%
Were bullied during school (p. 165) 21.1% 16.1%
Experienced hate related graffiti (p. 71) 28.3% 11.5%
Feared being attacked or harmed in 2013 (p. 191) 3.5% 2.6%
Avoid places in school out of fear for their safety (p. 106) 4% 1.7%

The results clearly show that private school students are generally less fearful about their daily safety. To understand why, examine school safety policies in private schools.

General School Safety Policies in Private Schools

Whether secular or parochial, every private school has its own specific policies regarding every aspect of safety for students and staff. However, there are some general guidelines they all share in common.

Dress Codes

The dress code is a private school's first line of defense. By requiring appropriate school uniforms from all students, the playing field is leveled. Gang clothing is eliminated, hateful or inappropriate words and slogans on shirts are avoided. Uniforms also eliminate evidence of the socioeconomic differences between students.

Discipline/Student Conduct

Nearly all private schools provide parents and students with a school handbook outlining rules and expectations for student conduct. This is where private schools spell out their policies to the letter. Most policies:

  • Prohibit the use of hate language and/or threats
  • Prohibit off-campus behavior that directly relates back to student/school safety
  • Prohibit bringing weapons of any kind to school property, functions, activities and events
  • Define harassment procedures and what constitutes harassment
  • Define exactly what is considered a weapon
  • Define school property to include actual buildings, athletic fields, busses, recreational areas and any other areas that fall under the school's supervision
  • State specific disciplinary consequences for infractions of the rules

Bomb Threats

Handbook policies should spell out specific procedures for addressing/handling bomb threats. This includes:

  • Prohibit making threats relating to explosive devices
  • Prohibit bringing an explosive device or hoax device onto school property as previously defined
  • Specifically state the process for school authorities to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in the event of real bomb threats and hoaxes
  • Define a school evacuation plan
  • State the disciplinary action for infractions of the rules

Search/Seizure

In the event of a crime or a perceived safety threat, it may become necessary for school officials to search a student, his or her locker or personal possessions. School policy should clearly state:

  • The amount of notice provided to parents and students prior to a search
  • Guidelines for staff on how a search should be conducted
  • The types of search methods that will be used at the school's discretion
  • The kind of follow-up action that may be required

Acceptable Internet Usage

The internet is a valuable teaching tool, but it also presents definite challenges to keeping students safe. School policies should cover:

  • Clearly defined perimeters for student conduct
  • Acceptable use of the Internet on school computer systems, tablet and other devices
  • The school's right to monitor school internet use and e-mail systems.
  • Require parents and students to sign a yearly internet usage contract acknowledging the parents' permission for the student to use the internet, and the student's responsibility to comply with school guideline

Bullying

Teenage Girl Being Bullied At School

Many handbooks also outline what consists of bullying and how online bullying (cyberbullying) also falls within this category.

  • Defines what consists of bullying both verbally and physically
  • Defines the perimeters of cyberbullying
  • Outlines the repercussions consistent with state laws
  • Evaluation and discipline procedures

Crisis Response

Every school must devise a crisis response plan defining a course of action to take in the event of a violent incident, or natural disaster. This plan should address:

  • Roles of faculty in managing the situation
  • Guidelines for cooperating with local agencies and authorities
  • Parental notification of a crisis
  • Evacuation procedures

School Terrorism

The student handbook also outlines procedures for school terrorism/shooting.

  • Outlines how to report suspicious adult or student behavior
  • Maintains effective visitor controls
  • Establishes protective measures for staff and students
  • Outlines long-term prevention protocols
  • The follow-up actions that will be taken

Cell Phone Procedures

Given the prevalence of cell phones in schools, many private schools take a no cell phone use policy. This means that students should not have a phone on or present during school hours. Any caught with their cellphone will have it confiscated. Other schools allow cell phones used during specific times like for school assignments or in the hallways between classes. However, the rules vary by school.

Sharing of Information

Local and federal laws specify exactly what kinds of information can be shared between schools, law enforcement agencies, courts and social services. It is up to the school district to be aware of these specifications, and to adopt guidelines for sharing student information accordingly. Most laws make an exception to sharing student information in the event of a health or safety emergency.

Protecting Students

Currently, it appears private schools are perceived safer than public, but public schools are working to close the gap. The adoption of school uniform policies in many public school districts is just one example of how they are addressing ongoing safety issues. Although both school systems share many of the above policies in common, public schools still have some distance to go if they want to catch up.

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School Safety Policies in Private Schools