I love summer vacation and the two-month break from making sure backpacks are ready and waiting by the front door, packing lunches, and from double-checking that our sleepy teenagers have remembered everything they will need for the school day. I am always a bit down at the beginning of each new school year, reflecting on how quickly my boys are growing and acknowledging that we have moved closer to
graduation and further from classroom cupcake celebrations. Nevertheless, I love when the new school year begins. I love the anticipation of new classes, new teachers, new challenges and opportunities to learn. We send our children off to school this year with expectations for learning, but also that they will return home safely. School safety is now an indisputable consideration for parents, and a recent survey by PDK Poll indicates that one in three parents fear for their child’s physical safety in school. Engaged and informed families are an essential aspect of a comprehensive approach to school safety, and some parental concerns could be lessened by answering the question: How are schools in New York State required to address safety?
In July 2000, the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (Project SAVE) was signed into law to promote a safer and more effective learning environment within New York State schools. SAVE legislation has multiple requirements including the development of district-wide school safety plans, and building level emergency response plans. The purpose of SAVE is to prevent or minimize the effects of violent incidents and emergencies, and to facilitate the coordination of schools and school districts with local and county resources in the event of such incidents or emergencies.
In addition, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) seeks to provide students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function. The legislative intent of DASA is to afford all students in public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment.
Beyond these requirements, creating connections between adults and students is a central component of a safe and respectful school climate. Developing supportive and collaborative relationships can lead to beneficial academic and behavioral outcomes. In schools without supportive norms, structures, and relationships, students are more likely to experience violence, peer victimization and punitive disciplinary actions.
All elementary, middle, and high schools across New York State are now required to teach about mental health under a new law that took effect in 2018. Mental health education in schools can provide students with lifelong skills needed to understand mental health, to determine when to seek help for themselves or others, and where they can turn for help.
Safety is a component of our student’s daily experience, and ensuring a safe learning environment for students is essential. As with all initiatives, it is important for schools to find ways to inform and engage parents, and to aide them in addressing concerns they may have about the well-being of their children. Everyone within the school community- including students and parents- can have a role in ensuring the safety of our schools, and to help prolong the excitement and promise of a new school year.
Tina Tierney is the Director of the New York State Center for School Safety operated by Measurement Incorporated.
Please learn more about our program evaluation and professional development services on this website.
http://pdkpoll.org/assets/downloads/3PDKPoll2018_School-Security-Report_FINAL-x.pdf, retrieved August 2018.
 NYS Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) Ed. Law Article 2 Section 10