SDEA president says schools must be safe

SDEA president says schools must be safe It's back to school time in South Dakota. Students are already back in classes in many districts and are anticipating the first day in the rest of the districts. Teachers are developing lesson plans, creating meaningful homework assignments, and encouraging student participation.

Parents are looking for ways to help their child start the new school right. Communities throughout the state see all the familiar signs that the school year is beginning.

Elaine Roberts, president of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) says that as the school year begins every South Dakotan should be thinking about making sure the state's schools are safe.

"It's easy to take school safety for granted, but events throughout the nation over the last few years tell us that would be a big mistake. We can't afford to think that the headlines will never be about a South Dakota school," said Roberts.

Roberts cites four issues which need to be considered to ensure that every child in South Dakota will have a safe learning environment. She also offers advice on what school employees, parents and the community, working as partners can do to make sure schools are safe.

School Violence

Tragically, there were far too many headlines in the last year about students and teachers who were killed in incidents involving guns and other weapons. Most, if not all, South Dakota schools have adopted "zero tolerance" policies regarding weapons.

That's a good first step, but eliminating school violence requires more than adopting policies. Schools and communities need to openly discuss the issue of school violence and have plans in place to deal with potential threats to students and school staff.

The best way to prevent acts of school violence is to be thoroughly prepared. The old cliche "The best time to plant a tree was yesterday, the next best time is today," applies to preventing school violence.

Student medications

An increasing number of students in South Dakota schools must take medication at some point during the school day. South Dakota laws and administrative rules require that school districts have policies in place regarding the administration of medications, the storage of medications, and for training of school staff who administer medication or perform medical procedures for students.

Again, adopting policies is only the first step. Everyone — school staff, students, parents, community members — must be aware of the policies and work to see that the policies are enforced.

If policies need to be changed, then everyone — school staff, students, parents, and community members — must be involved in the changes.

Weather emergencies

The winter of 1997 and the Spencer tornado give us all the reminders we need that South Dakota weather can be deadly. Again, every school has policies regarding school cancellations due to weather emergencies and every school conducts tornado drills.

The questions which need to be asked are obvious. Is everyone in the community aware of the policies? When were they last reviewed? Were all of the stakeholders involved in adoption of the policies? Do parents and teachers discuss the policies with students so they understand that weather emergencies are something which must be taken seriously.

Unsafe buildings

Simply put, many South Dakota kids attend schools in aging buildings. We like to think that every school building in South Dakota is structurally sound. Three recent examples, the chimney collapse at West Central, the walls that need reinforcing in Canton, and the deteriorated foundation that caused the closing of a building at Deubrook tell us that is not the case.

The overwhelming defeat of the recent bond issues in Garretson, to replace a building which is in violation of fire codes, is far too indicative of the attitude of many South Dakotans toward guaranteeing that every child is in a safe environment which is conducive to learning.

School construction is expensive and school construction rests solely on the backs of the property taxpayers. However, positive experience tells us that the community will support needed bond issues when the entire community is involved in the decision making process from the beginning.

Simply put, it takes a partnership — school officials, students, parents, the business community, senior citizens, every element of the community — to pass a bond issue.

"The start of the school year is always an exciting time. And SDEA doesn't want to throw cold water on that excitement," said Roberts. "Simply put, ensuring a safe environment conducive to learning is something that every South Dakotan must consider, not just at the start of the school, but every day of every school year."

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