School Safety and Security

Glor’s career as an independent photojournalist was flagging.  Sure, he arrived first at a lot of accident scenes and minor disasters, but the major media weren’t paying much for bloody pics and the internet didn’t pay at all.  No surprise, then, that he had few qualms about taking on an unethical, albeit lucrative, assignment.

“You get shots of the kid, arriving at school, playing at school, whatever you can, and we’ll Photoshop them to our liking,” the Mafia guy instructed Glor.

Glor polished the lenses on his best cameras.

*    *     *

That Sky had split from him hurt, but Eddie always knew their relationship didn’t have strong legs; a broke street hustler shacking up with a glamorous movie star couldn’t expect the long term.  So, yes, it hurt, but what hurt really bad was that Sky’s million dollar lawyers were preventing Eddie from having any contact with April, their daughter, and he had seen Sky and April about town, Sky’s new boyfriend in tow.  “I know where she goes to school.  I don’t see April, Sky doesn’t see April,” Eddie steamed.

Eddie bought a gun.

*    *     *

Castle Hill was a private elementary school located adjacent to a major university campus and the vibrant little campus town that had grown about the U.  The U and the campus town had plenty of security staff wandering about and though they weren’t attached to Castle Hill in any way, Sonia, the school owner/administrator, felt reasonably secure that the abundant security presence in the area would dissuade troublemakers from bothering her school.

Sonia was delighted when Sky, the famous movie star, came to meet with her about possibly enrolling her daughter at Castle Hill.  Sky mentioned that the paparazzi were always swarming about and asked about privacy and school security.  Sonia answered to Sky’s satisfaction and little April became the newest enrollee at Castle Hill.

And so it was that Castle Hill became the focal point of a perfect storm.  Some unsavory people wanted photos of April for some nefarious reason, and an angry ex-boyfriend was looking for revenge.

Other than having amusing thoughts about paparazzi swarming her campus, Sonia did nothing special about the security at the Castle Hill campus.  So here is an outside picture of the campus on the day that Glor and Eddie were drawing toward its location:

  1. The play yard was in back, adjacent to the small employee parking lot. The parking lot was open and accessible from the alley behind the school; the only security for the parking lot was in the form of car alarms.  The play yard was surrounded by chain-link fencing.  When Sonia bought the facility there were three strands of barbed wire atop the fencing and rather than having it removed she wove ivy through the barbed wire that eventually grew to hide the ugly barbs.  Some aggressive strands of ivy snaked their way to the ground, but that was sparse and ragged; anyone in the parking lot or in the alley behind the school could easily see into the play yard.
  2. Employees accessed the schoolhouse from the parking lot via an “Employees Only” entrance; an entrance was that was always kept locked.  The front of the school featured a grand oak door flanked by large picture windows.  A cute set of planters sat at the base of each picture window.  The receptionist sitting at her desk near the front entry had a clear view of the street and the short walkway that led to the front door, hindered partially by the spray of flowers shooting up from the planters.  All arriving students were ushered in through the big front door, which was left unlocked during school hours to accommodate parents, the postal service and other deliveries.  The classrooms were entered through a door off the reception area.

Esther teaches at Castle Hill and spells the front desk receptionist when the receptionist is at lunch or absent.  Esther also does her share of yard duty during outdoor classroom time.  On the day in question Esther was monitoring the outdoor classroom from her perch on the back stairs of the schoolhouse while Barbara attended the front reception desk.  Ever vigilant, Esther noticed a dark SUV slowly pass down the alley three times, each time using the employee parking lot to turn around, and the driver, in a cap and dark glasses, appeared to be scrutinizing the play yard.  On its fourth pass the SUV turned into the employee parking lot and stopped, the driver opened his door, climbed onto his running board and started shooting pictures with a camera fitted with a telephoto lens.  Cell phone use is prohibited when on yard duty, but Esther pulled hers out anyway and snapped a shot of the man just before he ducked back into his vehicle and sped away.

The disquieting vision of the photo man still in the back of her mind, Esther herded the kids inside as the outdoor classroom time ended.  That job done, Esther settled in as front desk receptionist for an hour of boredom.  It was part of her job so Esther accepted it without too much of a grumble, but she hated the front desk because she was so exposed to whatever walked in the door.  Countless times she has had to ward off salespeople, homeless folks looking for a handout, and odd people wandering in with no apparent business with the school.

Bored at the front desk, Esther gazed sleepily out one of the front windows, counting the cars that went by each minute.  Her view was suddenly blocked by an unkempt-looking fellow approaching the walkway to the school’s main entrance.  He had longish hair, a scruffy beard, and the dark glasses and cap instantly reminded Esther of the photographer guy from the alley, but the look wasn’t quite the same.  Can’t be him anyway, she thought.  After what he just did he wouldn’t dare come waltzing in here.  Because of the foliage partially blocking her view, Esther couldn’t see whether he was carrying a camera so she stood up and immediately noticed he was carrying a metal object that might be a gun!  Gun or not, this guy spelled trouble.

Esther scrambled to the front door, turned the locking bolt, and was punching 911 on her cell phone as the guy tried the door, then pounded on the door.  As Esther quickly gave info to the 911 operator something smashed through one of the picture windows, glass flying everywhere.  Esther pushed a chair towards the window hoping to slow the intruder and then dashed through the door to the classrooms, locked that door, and sounded an alert.  What Esther missed was Eddie’s clumsy attempt to climb in through the broken window.  When the police arrived they found Eddie impaled on a large shard of glass.

The police arrested Eddie and while they interviewed Esther she remembered to tell them about the guy taking pictures from an SUV.  The police laughed that one off.  A few days later Sky was phoned by an anonymous caller who threatened to post obscene pictures of April on the internet unless a substantial sum of money was paid and Sky immediately withdrew April from Castle Hill.

* **

The safety and security of the children in your charge is a paramount issue for school administrators, no matter the age of the children.  Armed security guards, coils of razor wire and alligator-infested moats are probably all on the wish list of administrators somewhere, but the focus here is on reasonable measures that can be taken at minimal expense to a school’s budget.  Analyzing the ups and downs of Castle Hill should be instructive.

Exterior Issues

Reliance on Area Security

Although Sonia had a security comfort level due to the proximity of numerous university security personnel, security from that source would be inherently unreliable, the deterrent effect of such security would be minimal where a real bad actor was involved, and it is hardly a pro-active security approach to hope for outside help.  The security on which Sonia should rely should be that of her own making.

The Parking Lot

The employee parking lot and its access to the schoolhouse is a concern.  Although Glor might have taken his pictures just as easily from the alley, the fact that he got as close as he did is troublesome.  A good practice would be to install a gate that allows parking lot access only to persons with a legitimate reason to enter it.  If the school budget allows, a coded keypad entry system and a camera monitor would be valuable additions to parking lot security.  Further, although the schoolhouse access door is intended to be locked at all times, the possibility that an employee hurrying to work might forget to lock after entering is quite real.  Should that occur, the open parking lot and the unlocked schoolhouse door would create a potential for disaster.  Restricting access to the parking lot would be helpful; absent a permanent lock on the back door, reminder signs and staff meeting reminders about locking the back door would be the next most reasonable approach.

The Fence around the Play Yard

The majority of schools do not have a paparazzi concern and probably don’t mind that people passing by can see a well-populated school yard, but the ease of watching kids in a play yard is an invitation to the wrong kind of people.  Installing the ugly green sheets that are used to surround construction sites might be reasonable.  A more attractive alternative would be to foster full ivy covering the fence, but this might also aid an intruder choosing to climb over the fence, and gang members and other very bad actors have been known to stash drugs and weapons in heavy ivy growth.  Whatever the school’s choice for screening, leaving the play yard open to easy viewing is not a best practice.

Front Access/View from Interior

Since the school is just that, and not a fortress, there should be a pleasant and easily accessible main entrance.  The big door and the flowered twin picture windows may be attractive features, but since the picture windows also serve as a security outpost (see below) the view from the reception area should be unobstructed.  It is quite likely that simple trimming would allow the attractive flowers to remain as an asset without any semblance of liability.

Despite Esther’s grouse about unwanted persons using the unlocked front door, in a reasonably safe community such as where Castle Hill was located an open door policy would be tolerable so long as no known security threat existed.  In a dangerous neighborhood it would be reasonable to keep the front door locked after children have been delivered for the day.

The Security Team/Watching Stations

Every employee of the school is part of the security team, a team that at its best observes both the children and the school surroundings.  In the case of Castle Hill, the receptionist is a post to observe the comings and goings of parents and children as well as to observe the street scene in front of the school.  That worked reasonably well when Esther spotted Eddie’s approach, but as mentioned above, the planter foliage should be maintained so that an unobstructed view is available.

When Esther was in the play yard she was stationed in such a way that she could observe the alley and parking lot and, presumably, the children playing in the yard.  Another star for Esther on the observation scale was when she tracked Glor’s SUV, but Esther cannot be expected to observe everything from one outpost.  There should have been one or more other school personnel observing the play yard from different posts so that a watchful eye is on all of the children all of the time, with opportunities to keep an eye out for irregular occurrences beyond the school’s borders.

Wherever an employee is posted at any given time, he or she is part of the security team whose goal is the safety and security of the children.  Each employee should be trained to be observant and to understand and report signs of trouble before the signs of trouble become troubling incidents.

Esther’s Actions

Esther never got a hero’s welcome for photographing Glor’s SUV, but given the overtly suspicious nature of Glor’s actions it was certainly prudent of Esther to attempt to document it in some way.  That Esther did so without risking harm to herself or the children is laudable.

In the case of Eddie’s approach, Esther showed a little bit of brawn and a lot of brains.  It is a compelling best practice that school personnel should avoid physical confrontation with a dangerous person.  Most school employees lack the fighting skills of an Arnie or a Sly, and employees are generally not permitted to possess weapons on school grounds, so by quickly bolting the door and shoving the chair, Esther did all of the brawn that could possibly be expected, and maybe even lingered about longer than safety would dictate.  Esther’s dash to the school interior and locking access was the smart way to respond to the threat and when she sounded the alert it is hoped and expected that school personnel reacted according to a planned emergency strategy.  An emergency may come once or never, but a school must be ready to react so that the children will be protected and not thrown into a scrambling panic.

Security Review

Most schools won’t face the special circumstances that surround the enrollment of a celebrity’s child, but the event of such an enrollment certainly should have signaled it was time for Sonia to conduct a security review.  Some of the options discussed above might have been employed given Sky’s concern over paparazzi.  But even without a celebrated enrollment every school should have a periodic security review, discussing with all personnel things they may have observed inside and outside the campus that could use some attention.  Small actions may often translate into major improvements, and even if nothing needs to be fixed, periodic security reviews will help reinforce that paramount goal—the safety and security of the children.


School safety involves a multitude of issues and concerns, a handful of which were covered in this article.  Appended below are comprehensive outlines of the many aspects of school safety and security.


School Safety Considerations

  • Vision for the school – There has to be an assessment of what matters to the specific campus, community and culture. There is no “one size fits all” school safety plan.  School leadership must first reflect upon and subsequently memorialize the school safety philosophy.  There must be a consensus among all stakeholders.  This may apply to private schools more because they have more flexibility in aligning philosophy with a school safety plan.  The school safety plan for public schools is typically district wide.  Nevertheless, every campus can and should have a discussion.  Culture, norms, and dynamics change within small jurisdictions and neighborhoods. Just like in the county court system, each school jurisdiction has its own set of local considerations and thus its own set of local rules.
    • For example, some schools have a passive philosophy and do not believe in violence under any circumstance. However, after the Connecticut shooting a few years ago, armed guards were hired.  Parents were in an uproar because they felt it was an irrational overreaction and contrary to the school’s mission.
  • Clearly identified and measurable goals
    • For k-12, lower suspension rates, lower crime stats, fewer tardies, fewer calls for service
    • For Early Childhood Education (“ECE”), increased parent participation, increased community outreach, lower absenteeism, increased family supportive services and resources, increased mental health resources
  • Comprehensive school wide discipline policy
    • For k-12, these policies may be district wide and school sites must comply
    • For ECE and private schools, this can be challenging. Grounds for discipline or expulsion policies are easier to write than to execute.  Deciding the boundaries of acceptable student and parent behavior are easy to establish but when faced with the situation or variation of the scenario, pulling the trigger gets complicated.  There are many factors that come into play, such as ethical obligations to the family involved, fiduciary duty to the children involved, protection of staff and school, school and educator liability, to name a few, and the potential for conflicts of interest abound.  School leadership must balance all the interests of all involved parties.
  • Staffing – Arguably the most difficult and least appealing task is maintaining adequate personnel to get the job done, including the use of volunteers.
  • Supervision staff – Highly visible and well trained campus supervision staff.
  • Grid technique – Divide the campus into a grid with supervision personnel each assigned to a specific grid unit, each monitored by a designated administrator, directly responsible for their day-to-day performance and the carrying out of their duties during specific times of the day.
  • School Safety Team – A single supervisor (administrator?) in charge of the overall daily safe school plan who is kept informed in real time by each of these designated administrators. This language is perfect for k-12 but for a younger population, administrator, lead teacher or designee is appropriate.
  • Accountability – The school principal or director evaluates the effectiveness on a daily basis and holds all personnel accountable through the chain of command.
  • Feedback – Define, model and reward the expected behaviors for each area of the campus and for school sponsored activities.
  • Assessment – Video tape the campus exterior and interior during the school day. A sub-committee can evaluate safety concerns and suggest improvements.
  • Communication – Develop code words that can be announced over the PA system that quickly conveys the severity of a threat.
  • Reporting system – Use either a cutting edge technology or a manual system. There should be a system in place to (1) prioritize safety matters  (2) early warning system that alerts leadership about urgent matters (3) help staff, students and parents discern urgent matters from less urgent matters (4) proactively sniff out potential safety vulnerabilities (5) guide reporters with writing sound and actionable reports that will be useful to authorities (6) easy to use (7) assign problem and follow up to specific personnel and set time for follow up  (8) update policies/procedures aimed toward prevention of repeating same issue in future (9) an evaluation of the reporting system and potential bottle necks (10) communication about safety issues to all necessary stakeholders including law enforcement partners.  Engaging local law enforcement is crucial to school safety (police, firemen, poison center, etc.)
  • Designated News pundit – Identify the person on your staff who enjoys keeping abreast of safety matters. This person is responsible for disseminating school safety news that may help your site remain aware of what is going on in the industry.  That person should be a CCC ambassador of school safety.  Email  and follow us on twitter to stay abreast .

Checklist of what should be included in the CCC Daily School Safety Facility Checklist:


  • Holes in fence line
  • Unlocked gates/doors
  • Parking lots
  • Entrance and Exits
  • Bushes /Flower beds*
  • Perimeter of school/incursions
  • Hot spots – areas in neighborhoods that are cause for concern (loitering, drug locations, gang activity, speeding, frequent traffic and traffic collision)
  • Safe routes to school
  • Negative community culture


  • Weapons
  • Restrooms
  • Trash cans
  • Stairwells
  • Attics and crawlspaces
  • Play houses and apparatus with blind spots
  • Perimeter/flight, exodus
  • Unaccounted for students. Not knowing where they are, what they are doing , with whom and why
  • Unsafe adult practices/ Negative school culture
  • Not knowing who is on your campus
  • Unsafe student behaviors
  • Mental and Emotional trauma
  • Rumor control
  • No early warning system (Hot line, Safety Alerts, Hot spots )

Download Daily Safety Checklist

Featured Contributor of this Article

The Honorable Reverend Dr. Michael L. Hopwoodrom is a California native and sought-after speaker, teacher, and Los Angeles Unified School District administrator with 30 years as an educator and community servant.

Dr. Hopwoodrom began teaching in 1982 at L’ Ecole Secondaire, Fribourg, Switzerland as a Substitute teacher, teaching business math and accounting. In the United States he taught in the Phoenix Elementary and Union High School Districts before taking a position as an eighth grade teacher on the Gila Indian Reservation in Sacaton Arizona. He transferred to the Los Angeles Unified School District and continued his career in education as a math teacher at Bethune Middle School and Jordan High School. He subsequently taught and coached several years in the Pomona Unified School District, serving on the District Curriculum Council Task Force for Proficiency and District Mathematics Curriculum Writing Committee before returning to LAUSD where he was promoted to Assistant Principal at Locke High, Gompers Middle School and King Drew Magnet High School in South Central Los Angeles. In January of 2007 Dr. Hopwoodrom was appointed to the Los Angeles Unified School District Human Relations Council and served as the council’s only African-American male member. He is a founding member and former Chairperson of the Education is a Civil Right Committee. Dr. Hopwoodrom served several years on the Scholarship Selection Committee for the Coalition of Black School Administrators. In 2012 he helped plan the organizations fall leadership retreat.
Dr. Hopwoodrom has served as advisor to elected officials, city, county and community based agencies, and nonprofits. Michael Hopwood is an innovative violence prevention specialist and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Safety Collaborative. In 1995 Michael Hopwood hired gang intervention specialist Mr. Leon Gillet and together they established a first of its kind Safe Passage program to create a safe pathway for Gompers Middle School students traveling the gang ridden streets to and from school.