Necessary Components for Safe Schools for ALL Students
These components were not in place in our schools when my 13 year old daughter Lily died by suicide. They are the result of many hours of dialogue with educators, school staff, administrators, mental and public health workers, as well as many other families and students who experienced the detrimental effects of bullying in schools. If the desire to reduce bullying and adolescent suicide is real and genuine, these things must be included and leadership held accountable for implementation and enforcement.
School Climate Surveys:
How do you know what students are experiencing if you do not ask?
Surveys can and should be anonymous.
Survey Results need to be used as a measure for success and for determining areas of weakness and how to address.
Survey Results Summaries and actions to be taken to address issues must be posted on school websites to demonstrate accountability and transparency. Successes should be highlighted there as well! The community should celebrate all improvements in school culture and environment.
** GLSEN Local Survey: https://localsurvey.glsen.org/
** This is the survey created for the Moab School District as a collaborative effort between the Utah State University School of Social Work, local teacher, therapists and community members as part of their response to Lily's suicide. School Climate Survey
** This is an excellent survey from St. Vrain Valley School Distrcict in Longmont, CO.
Must have a clear discipline matrix, followed with consistency in implementation to eliminate favoritism or discrimination. This must include discipline around issues of discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and also include verbal bullying as a safety issue. Effective and appropriate consequences must be enforced. The surveys should be a reflection on if enforcement is happening.
Should include a process of restorative justice as part of the response to bullying/violence. If your school cannot effectively do this, as is the case in Utah (because of their refusal to require therapy as part of the process), pursue implementing a mindfulness program in all grades and increase emotional intelligence as part of curriculum. These will increase self awareness, understanding of impact on others, and will reduce bullying while also increasing overall well being and success of students.
Must include a tracking system for all reports of bullying, including those which are “unproven”. This is critical to an effective bullying policy because it allows tracking over time, thus enabling schools to address repeated reports in an effective way and to tease out issues that may get missed without appropriate tracking, documenting and reporting.
** Click Here for links to Restorative Justice Programs:
** These are sample policies that serve to keep ALL students safe: https://www.glsen.org/district-policy
School Based Therapists: - These MUST be in all schools.
Bullying is violence and is a mental health issue for the bully, the victim and any witnesses. Funding for a trained licensed therapist in each school is a MUST to reduce bullying and suicide, as well as to ensure that LGBTQIA students (and all who are marginalized) have a safe place to talk about what they are experiencing. This is different from a guidance counselor because their training and experience are different. Therapists must be involved in any effective Restorative Justice Program. If your state won't require talking with a therapist in response to bullying, focus on bringing in mindfulness programs to be integrated into your curriculum and throughout your school. This will help reduce issues of bullying. Best case scenario is embracing BOTH!
Therapists should be consulted when reviewing surveys to help determine appropriate changes to make.
Most schools, other than very very small ones, will need more that one therapist in each school. This is because of the mental health crisis happening at such high rates in students today.
This must be provided and participated in on an annual basis and must include ALL staff - teachers, secretaries, para-educators, TAs, custodians, lunch persons, bus drivers, administrators, school board members… everyone! High quality and effective trainings around the issues below are critical. Online trainings are not adequate and fail to offer the depth and focus on specific issues in each school which are needed to truly have an impact.
Bullying/Violence - how to identify it, who is at risk, places it happens, how to prevent it. Bullying, suicide awareness and LGBTQIA (marginalized youth) awareness must be intertwined because they are irrefutably connected.
Reporting: what/when/ how to report, the process and importance of documentation, procedures for follow through, and communication with parents. Also HOW to make your school a place where students feel safe to report - they must believe it will be handled and in a way that doesn't endanger the victim.
Accountability: when the process is failing - where do students, parents, teachers, staff take their concerns? No one will report if they feel that their issues or concerns are not addressed. Many feel voiceless and need to feel that the schools are taking their concerns and experiences seriously.
*** CLICK HERE for information on effective training programs!!***
There must be a process and procedure to hold all school staff, including administrators, accountable. As leaders, they are responsible for ensuring that they and their staff are following the policies and reporting procedures as well as enforcing consequences and responding to discrimination and bullying.
Schools must post results of surveys on website to demonstrate accountability and transparency - see Surveys! Posting surveys and also posting the plan to respond to issues on the website and making them easily available to the public, schools are actionable ways schools can exhibit their commitment to holding staff and students accountable and fosters trust and faith through such transparency.
States must prioritize funding to hold school districts accountable for their policies, reporting, training and accountability measures. Without this additional accountability, school districts may not adequately implement the policies and practices necessary to reduce adolescent suicide and bullying. State School Boards must be empowered and funded to capably enforce effective policy and practices.
All teachers must be supported through policy and practice in creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA youth. This applies to all marginalized youth, but the LGBTQIA youth population is severely at risk. "Safe zone” or "Safe Space" signs are a visible message that they are valued, loved and that their safety is important.
Safety and support must be ensured for teachers who identify as LGBTQIA to be open and out. Too many teachers, especially in states like Utah, feel they will be discriminated against for coming out and likely lose their jobs. Policies should clearly be written to protect and support these teachers. Without this any gesture or overture of acceptance will be empty. LGBTQ+ students feel safer when they are in a school with openly LGBTQ+ teachers and staff.
*** CLICK HERE for a link to safe space kits for educators and school staff; for your classroom or anywhere in the school that is a truly safe area and person for an LGBTQIA student to go when they need help, support or just simply to feel safe.