Substitute Preparedness

School Safety

Learn about school safety issues and how to be generally prepared.
students lined up outside during a fire drill

School safety is always top priority.

Those who work and volunteer in schools are responsible for providing a safe campus and safe classrooms for students. Whenever you substitute teach, and especially the first time you are at a particular school, you should make sure that you ask the office about emergency procedures and any scheduled drills. While some teachers provide this information in their plans, some do not; be proactive in knowing what to do if an emergency arises.

Below are some common situations to think about as well as some general tips; however, it is essential to ask each school about specific procedures.

Overall Good Habits to Be Prepared

  • Keep a headcount of students, and check that you have everyone when you leave and return to the classroom from recess, arts classes, lunch, assemblies, emergencies drills, and so on. Don't lose a student!

  • Know the route that your class uses to exit the building during an emergency and where to line up or meet outside.

  • Know what number to call for the office and/or nurse for medical or behavioral emergencies.

  • Pay attention to any teacher notes about students with medical concerns or allergies.

  • Keep classroom doors that lead directly outside locked and closed. The building is not secure if outside doors are propped open.

Fire / Fire Drill

In the case of a fire alarm, class should immediately stop and exit the building. Instruct the class to stay together, keep voices off, and go out the correct door to the outside meeting place.

For drills, students should line up in their designated area. Obviously, for a real fire, everyone should take a route away from the fire and meet a safe distance away from the building.

Driveline Duty

You may be asked to monitor students getting dropped off in the morning or getting picked up at the end of the day. It is imperative that you keep students back from the street and not allow them to cross except at the designated area with a staff crossing guard. Students should wait until their car comes to a complete stop before exiting or approaching to go home.

Unfortunately, some drivers are not attentive or careful; do not hesitate to shout commands to drivers or students where safety is at risk, such as "Stop!" "Slow down!" or "Look out!"

Recess / Outdoor PE

When outside, be aware of the surroundings. Even though most schools are fenced, you should watch for anyone suspicious approaching the school or for any police activity nearby. Monitor the weather for danger, such as lightning, extreme temperatures, or other extreme conditions.

Monitor play areas for dangers, such as broken equipment, slippery surfaces, or dangerous wildlife. Do not allow students to play unsafely on playground features or to play unsafely with equipment. If provided, take a walkie-talkie with you outdoors to communicate concerns with office staff.

Medical Emergency

The three most common student medical concerns are allergies, seizures, and diabetes. Be sure to follow any notes that the teacher leaves you on the sub plans. Some students may have life-saving equipment in the classroom, such as epipens or insulin pumps. If you have even the smallest of concerns, do not hesitate to contact the office or school nurse. Never send an ill student to the office alone (send a peer to accompany).

In an emergency, give life-saving care by following the instructions on life-saving equipment, such as an epipen shot to counteract an allergic reaction. Do not hesitate to call 911 for critical emergencies. You may also direct a student to get additional staff support.

Misuse of Classroom Materials

As anyone learns when working in schools, students can misuse or throw classroom items, which can be dangerous. Scissors, rulers, and staplers are frequently misused, and of course, anything can be thrown. Make sure that you reinforce expectations and monitor that students are using things appropriately.

Student Aggression

Wherever you are monitoring students, always be watchful for any students becoming irritated or aggressive. Resolving issues early can prevent a student from losing control and harming a classmate. Offer an upset student to get a drink out of the classroom or a seat away from others. You should intervene if a student is preparing to harm or is actively harming someone else. Contact school administration for support.

Lockdown / Lockdown Drill & Variations

Sadly, events in the last few decades necessitate that every school be prepared for gun violence. Most schools now have different degrees of restricting school activity, ranging from just keeping students indoors to a full lockdown.

Minimal Restriction - Stay Indoors

Schools have different terms for this level of restriction, such as lock-out, lock-in, soft lockdown, stay inside, or something similar. This level of restriction is often used when there is police activity near the school, severe weather, or some other risk for students to go outside the school building.

For this level, classes continue uninterrupted, and students are still usually allowed to leave the classroom for water and bathroom needs.

More Restriction - Stay in Classrooms

Schools have different terms for this level of restriction, such as shelter in place, hold, or something similar. This level of restriction is used when there is a more serious threat of danger to the school or when there is an incident within the school that requires time to resolve (e.g., a medical emergency in the hallway).

For this level, classes may continue, but students are not usually allowed to leave the classroom for any reason. Sometimes, an escort may be provided for students who have bathroom needs.

Most Restiction - Lockdown

The term lockdown is pretty standard across schools. This level of restriction is used when there is an immediate threat of danger or an active danger.

For this level, classes stop and no one is to talk at all. Students should move to sit around the perimeter of the room in single file.

As the substitute teacher, it is your responsibility to

  • make sure the door is locked and shut
  • turn off the lights
  • close all blinds/curtains
  • make sure students are sitting single-file around the room; they cannot cluster in case they need to get up and run
  • keep students silent

The goal of a lockdown is to make it harder for a perpetrator to access students. Inside the classroom, the goal is to NOT draw any attention.

As with any emergency, it is important to adjust according to the situation. For example, if you are outside at recess when an active shooting begins inside the building, you would obviously get students to run away from the school and gather them a safe distance away rather than going back inside toward the danger. As another example, if a perpetrator breaches the classroom, or begins shooting in an open area (e.g., lunchroom), you would do everything you could to fight while students escape.

Evacuation & Relocation

In rare circumstances, students may be evacuated from school and moved to another place. Parents are then contacted and follow relocation procedures to take home their student(s).

Evacuation circumstances might include a prolonged power outage, water stoppage, gas leak, broken HVAC/temperature control, natural disaster, bomb threat, or other reason the building has become unsafe.

Be sure to follow school direction for safely walking or bussing students to the new location.

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