BOISE -- How safe is your child's school? That's the question posed by a study from the Idaho Department of Education more than a year ago. Now, the results are in.
This study was really the first step in improving school safety. This was about getting a bunch of information, so informed decisions could be made.
"We know school safety is an issue and it's and ongoing issue," said Matt McCarter, Director of Student Engagement and Postsecondary Readiness at the Idaho State Department of Education. "It's one of those things that you don't do something; check a box and you're done. It's a continuous improvement mindset."
Following the tragic mass school shooting in Connecticut more than a year ago, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna created a Safe and Secure Schools Task Force. Matt McCarter worked with them to create this study, which took a random security sample from 74 schools across Idaho.
"School safety issues are going to change across the state," said McCarter. "So we want folks to know their own situation, so they're best informed in addressing it."
But, it also gave researchers a broad statewide snapshot of our schools' safety. It shows one of the big things schools need to work on is who was able to enter the schools.
"Access control was a big concern for us," said McCarter. "In the majority of cases, the schools that we looked at, 71 our of 74 schools, access was gained through other than the main entrance."
But one of the strengths schools showed was creating a connected student body and a staff that they could trust through anti-bullying campaigns and emotional literacy activities. But how does that help safety?
According to McCarter, "If it's hard to secure all the doors during the school day, but every student knows who's supposed to be in the building and who's not. And, if something looks funny, a student feels safe going to a trusted, caring adult saying, 'Hey, I saw something. It doesn't look quite right,' That's a protective factor for us."
McCarter says the study also showed that school safety is not just a school issue, it's a community issue. "What we saw in the report is too few parents are involved in school safety planning. Parents are a critical part, communities are a critical part of that function. So get involved, help us figure it out, because it's a significant challenge. It's not a school issue alone, it's a community issue."
Here are some things McCarter says parents can do to help with school safety. First, talk to your student about what trusted adult they would go to, if they had a problem. Second, reach out to the administration to figure out how you would be contacted in an emergency, and the expectations of you, as a parent. And finally, make sure your emergency contact information is up to date.
A big question you might have is, as much as they're needed, 'How much would safety improvements cost me, the taxpayer?' McCarter says not much at all. He says safety is really about policy and procedure, and making sure everyone is following those.
The study is in the hands of lawmakers and school leaders now. The next step is up to them.