During the modern era of education, the safety and security goals of school districts have grown and expanded. Athletic administrators may be expected to work in partnership with local law enforcement to prepare school safety procedures that effectively protect the well-being of students, staff and neighboring communities. As safety protocols continue to become a primary focus of school systems, athletic administrators should also consider more than just game management procedures.
Athletic administrators should consider working together with local police covering a wide range of topics, such as creating and revising departmental policies, sharing information relative to developments
and happenings that could ultimately affect public school events, and communicating school-related or community-related issues that could potentially carry over into extracurricular activities.
Creating and Revising Departmental Policies
Many school districts have already made a commitment to school safety and security; however, the real test in athletics is to revise outdated policies. As schools and athletic programs continue to expand, populations change and cultural trends adjust, athletic administrators need to be cognizant of these changes. They have to communicate with law enforcement so both parties can stay informed, and the procedures that are currently guiding after-school programs should be re-evaluated.
The police are able to offer a different perspective concerning the protection of the school community. Routine game management plans should be reviewed on an annual basis, and special events that draw oversized crowds should be assessed months prior to the actual date. Usually, local law enforcement would like to be involved in the process. They are willing to offer their assistance in the creation of new procedures or the revision of longstanding policies that may be outdated.
Sharing of Information – Everyone’s Responsibility
Populations will change. There will be new coaches, students, parents and fans, as well as the personnel within a township’s police department. Athletic administrators can be the conduit for keeping everyone informed by considering the following recommendations:
• Be proactive in setting up meetings that consist of individuals who have the ability to share information and keep everyone up-to-date and conversant.
• Create a committee, name it, establish a mission statement, and put school safety at the forefront of the decision-making process.
• Invite members from the school, the police department, the student body, local emergency services and the community to take part in the meetings.
• Encourage everyone to offer their perspective during the process. The sharing of diverse ideas increases the possibility of developing better, more effective and comprehensive policies and procedures.
• Try to establish a schedule that allows everyone to attend, stay in communication, and understand that school safety is an ongoing concern that deserves enduring attention.
• Prepare for the meetings. Athletic directors should share current school policies, game management procedures, board of education materials and any emergency response forms that reference the district’s response to threatened safety.
• Provide your school resource officer and the township police an opportunity to also distribute their own protocols that would be applicable to your setting.
These collaborative considerations will enhance your communication. As a result, the participants from multiple organizations will be able to align effective protocols and responses.
It is important to take notes during the meetings and to distribute updates regarding policy revisions or the implementation of new procedures. This not only serves as a reminder for new protocol during upcoming events, but it also provides a written record and history of the decisions being made for future conversation. If possible, create a shared Google Doc that allows for ongoing collaboration
Communicating School-Related and Community-Related Issues
The school is a reflection of the community it serves. Local law enforcement agencies understand that community-related happenings may have an effect on their educational institutions. In addition, school districts can assist the police by communicating the school-related issues that could have an impact on police investigations.
School resource officers can offer a variety of programs that can be proactive in violence prevention. Therefore, athletic administrators should continue to develop relationships with the township police to take advantage of these mutual concerns. Programs can specifically address gang violence, drug abuse and threats of weapons, and offer advice on any other dangers that may currently exist within the school or community.
Social media is a powerful tool. Therefore, it is important and prudent to establish a presence online and to stay up-to-date. This mode of communication will provide a different view by police and school administration into the world of their school and community. Within the realm of collaboration, athletic directors can establish protocols for workable online usage by students and coaches. Also, law enforcement should be informed of any suspicious behavior that could impact the surrounding community or extracurricular activities.
Athletic administrators and law enforcement can mutually benefit from NFHS resources. The “Social Media” course (www.NFHSLearn.com) offers an introduction to social media platforms and guidelines for athlete usage. Additionally, a course geared to students entitled “Social Media for Students” recognizes the growth of social networking, explains the permanency of deleted content and discusses connecting with teams and communities positively.
Additional courses to consider are “Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment” and “Teaching and Modeling Behavior.” Athletic administrators and law enforcement personnel will find that topics such as inappropriate behaviors, legal perspectives, the role of the coach and the elements of good reporting systems are defined. These courses also cover harassment, hazing, bullying, cyberbullying and abusive behavior preventions.
The health and safety of student-athletes have always been top priorities for high school athletic programs. In addition, maintaining a safe environment at school venues has become a major concern in recent years. These and other associated issues can be more effectively handled by the collaborative efforts of athletic administrators and law enforcement personnel.
Dr. Daniel Uszaki is the assistant principal for athletics at Northern Burlington High School in Columbus, New Jersey, and Jon White is a detective with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey and a former school resource officer. Uszaki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.