Back to School Safety & Security

A Security Mindset

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Back to School Safety & Security

The strategies that officials use to provide campus safety — like school-based policing, student surveillance and discipline policies, including suspensions — have long been the subject of passionate disagreements. Schools’ “zero tolerance” policies have prescribed strict discipline, including expulsions and arrests to punish students, but in recent years, educators have turned to strategies like “restorative justice” to address misbehavior.

Even before a safety incident unfolds, school leaders invest significant energy and financial resources on planning and prevention. District “emergency operations plans” highlight how educators should respond to a range of hazardous scenarios, including whether to evacuate campus or shelter in place. Some districts use safety-minded architecture — called “crime prevention through environmental design” — to promote safe school environments while others have “threat assessment teams” to identify student threats of violence and intervene before someone gets hurt. Anonymous tip lines allow students to alert the authorities about potential harms, and digital surveillance tools work to identify cyberbullying and online threats of violence.

School-based police, generally called school resource officers, are increasingly commonplace on campus and are now stationed at nearly three-fourths of high schools. The officers often build positive relationships with students as a prevention strategy, but they’ve also faced accusations of police brutality and racial discrimination. Other forms of physical security include locks, fencing and barriers that create a single point of entry onto campus, metal detectors and surveillance cameras.

Updated July 2021.