STEM Integrations Community Partnership Series: Supporting Student and Educator Safety with External Expertise

 In Administrator Resources, Advocacy, Districts, Leadership Development, Principal Programs, Professional Development Opportunities

Written by Krista M. Stith & Rachel L. Geesa: STEM Integrations, LLC

Creating a safe physical and technological infrastructure in schools is a complex, challenging, and time-consuming task for educational leaders. An impactful safety plan must engage a thoughtful process of educational leaders to involve many stakeholders and continuously evolve the plan with prevention and intervention strategies. Safety plans, also known as emergency operation plans, should be developed district-wide and building-level.  Threats (a human-caused emergency), hazards (natural, technological, biological disasters or accidents), and personnel roles during an emergency and post-emergency should be considered. In this reading of our community partnership series, we provide resources for educational leaders to consider from planning and implementation of safety plans with purposeful community partner involvement. 

Within the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE; 2021), the Indiana School Safety Hub provides funding details, building safety, education and training, mental health/substance use disorder, legislation, and additional resources. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Supportive Schools and Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (2020) has also designed a number of cyber safety and cybersecurity resources for PK-12 schools. 

In addition to online resources available to schools and districts, community involvement in safety planning is an approach to promote safe school environments with evidence of effectiveness in research and practice. Examples of community partners that may work with educational leaders on a safety plan, and contribute to emergency response, may include law enforcement, juvenile justice agencies, social services, medical and mental health agencies, business leaders, community foundations, youth support groups, and family service organizations. The Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM) Technical Assistance Center of the Department of Education (2007/2019) recommends the following actions for community partners within a school safety plan:

  1. Prevention: Avoiding, deterring, or stopping threats or hazards
  2. Protection: Securing against threats or hazards
  3. Mitigation: Proactive co-planning of response protocols
  4. Preparedness: Collaborative participation of active practicing and conducting drills
  5. Response: Resource sharing to stabilize/recover school infrastructure
  6. Recovery: Co-restoring the learning environment so that schools may quickly return to the educational mission.

With a significant shift to distance learning/remote education, community partners with technological expertise can contribute to a comprehensive plan at school or district levels to promote safe online environments for teachers, staff, and students.   

Though a resource primarily for higher education institutions, the nonprofit organization, EDUCAUSE, is a community of 2,300 organizations and 100,000 information technology (IT) leaders within academia, industry, and nonprofits. As a professional organization, they disseminate training opportunities, research, and newsletters; hold an active online community; and more to address issues and challenges of cybersecurity within educational settings. A membership directory is available with a number of Hoosier organizations and individuals listed. 

Another resource to identify local community members is the Research and Education Networks Information Sharing and Analysis Center (REN-ISAC), based out of Bloomington, Indiana. REN-ISAC hosts an active online presence to share and disseminate information on cybersecurity protections. The organization hosts public resources for members and non-members and, similar to EDUCAUSE, a directory list which includes several Hoosier universities and colleges. 

Community partners who contribute to safety plans may also be involved to inform educators and students of best safety practices. For example, community partners on a safety committee for the school’s or district’s technological infrastructure may guest speak with students and address cybersecurity benchmarks within the Indiana K-12 Computer Science Standards. Project or problem-based STEM lessons can align with school safety measures, such as students ideating solutions to safety challenges within the building. Engineering challenges to community partners may also lead professional learning opportunities for educators on ways to prevent or respond to threats and hazards (e.g., promotion of social-emotional learning, cyber safety). Notably, maintaining confidential information when working with community partners should also be considered to avoid additional safety issues and risks. 

Keeping educators and students safe in physical and virtual settings is a challenging task for educational leaders. As part of the prevention, protection, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery processes within a comprehensive school safety plan, the integration of community partners may reduce school and district vulnerability to threats and hazards. Additionally, community partners can also provide a source of information to educators and students on best practices for safety in natural, technological, and biological threats. A number of resources are available to educational leaders and we encourage you to explore these resources to be well-informed of safety strategies for schools and districts.  

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Indiana Department of Education (IDOE). (2021). Indiana School Safety Hub.

Indiana Department of Education (IDOE). (2018). Indiana K-12 Computer Science Standards.

Research & Education Networks Information Sharing & Analysis Center. (2021). REN-ISAC.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Supportive Schools and Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center. (2020, July). Keeping Students Safe Online. 
U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2019, September). The Role of Districts in Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans: A Companion to the School Guide.

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