Student Supervision and Space Management

Student Supervision and Space Management – Valuable Tools to Prevent Problems in Schools “Fight Club”

A lot has happened in the past month in school safety, including a situation that received a fair amount of national press coverage a few weeks back.  Media accounts allege that students at Nevada Valley Union High School in Grass Valley, California had been participating in what reporters characterized as a “fight club” for several months.  Allegedly, groups of students would enter an unsecured locker room in the basement of the school, don boxing gloves, and fight one another.  Video segments shown by news outlets depict students boxing while a number of other students observe.

Caution about video footage

According to reporters, parents are upset that this activity has apparently been going on without detection by staff at the school.  I am always cautious about opining on video segments without supportive background information.  I testified in a federal civil action in a case involving an independent boarding school a few years ago.  Videos of students sparring in their dormitory rooms depicted students punching one another in the stomach while other students looked on.  The video footage depicted by the news media initially looked horrific.  However, our video crew was able to locate the original unedited footage on YouTube which revealed that the videos were taken widely out of context and were likely posted as an effort to force the school to settle the suit. This is but one example demonstrating that some videos that are aired on the news are not accurate depictions.

Student supervision and space management

With this caution in mind, I do not have enough information to accurately evaluate how bad the situations depicted in the “fight club” video clips really are.  At the same time, I have a different take on the incident than many people do.  While media accounts focused on the need for students to be informed of the dangers of hitting one another without proper protective headgear, I immediately questioned whether a lack of proper student supervision and space management should be more of a
focus.  The ability of students to gain access to a large space such as a locker room and to repeatedly engage in inappropriate activities has implications far beyond those that are upsetting to many people who have viewed the video clips. Robberies, sexual assaults and deaths have occurred in smaller spaces where adult supervision was lacking.  The concept of space management involves a thoughtful effort to keep certain types of areas in K12 schools secured when they are not occupied by an adult who can supervise and prevent incidents like these.

Case in point – the “sex room” case

I recently finished a civil action in Illinois that involved two high school students who repeatedly engaged in group sex with several young women who were special needs students functioning at the third grade level.  During the criminal investigation and successful prosecution of the two young men, the victims repeatedly referred to the space where the incidents occurred as the “sex room.”  The district spent one million dollars defending against the civil action but once they passed this self-insurance limit, their insurance carrier immediately offered plaintiffs’ counsel a settlement.   Based on what I saw in the case file, it would have been extremely risky for this case to go to a jury trial.

We see so many tragic cases in schools where inadequate student supervision and/or improper space management are a major factor.  Providing clear guidance for staff on simple but effective student supervision practices and the importance of keeping unoccupied spaces locked can help to prevent many school safety incidents.    Effective leadership to make these simple but effective practices consistent realities in a school is one of the best ways to stay out of the news and out of court by preventing a myriad of negative situations.

Link to original news story:

Student Supervision

School Safety and Security in Trinidad – Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Direct presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

National conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Director Michael Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago last week and wrote this blog while on the road. We are posting it this week since we recently did a web redesign and had a delay in making new posts.

I have had a wonderful experience the past few days working in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  I had the honor to serve as the keynote speaker for the first national conference on school safety and security held in Trinidad – Tobago today.  The Ministry of Education and the CORE Foundation were able to arrange for a Trinidad Police Officer assigned to my security detail and the Director of the CORE Foundation to accompany me for site visits of two area high schools that have had recent security incidents.  These incidents included a double homicide where two victims were killed as they left their high school at the end of the school day.  I had been provided with quite a few news articles as background information prior to my arrival.  As we have seen in many cases in the U.S., the news articles turned out to be alarmist and highly inaccurate.  Trinidad – Tobago has a national homicide rate of 28 victims per 100,000 people in contrast to the U.S. rate of only 3.2 per 100,000 and has intensive gang activity.  In large cities like Port of Spain, it is not uncommon to see police officers patrolling in groups of three while carrying fully automatic tactical rifles and sub-machine guns.  At the same time, no one I have spoken to during this trip could provide any examples of anyone being murdered on school property.  As with many cases in England, Vietnam, South Africa and a number of countries where schools are typically completely fenced in, students have been murdered as they left the front gate of their schools at the end of the school day.

While I am not trying to imply that these types of murders are anything but tragic, it is almost astounding to me that to-date at least, no student or intruder has murdered anyone on a K12 campus property.  While it is likely that these types of incident will occur in Trinidad in the future, it is noteworthy that there have not been a number of such incidents already.   As with alarmist media and social media descriptions in the U.S., media accounts in Trinidad paint a picture of absolute chaos in K12 schools.  While schools in Trinidad – Tobago, like their counterparts in many other countries, have their share of violence, bullying, vandalism and other social ills, the media accounts appear to be just as inaccurate and inflammatory as those in the U.S. press.

There are striking differences in the way schools in Trinidad operate in relation to their U.S. counterparts.  For example, teachers rotate to different classrooms in contrast to the U.S. where students move between locations during passing times.  We have observed this practice in other countries such as Vietnam.  While U.S. school officials face challenges with student supervision during passing times, students in classrooms in Trinidad – Tobago are often left unattended by an adult as teachers rotate between their rooms.  This has resulted in some upsetting portable phone videos of students being assaulted in their classrooms by other students.  We recently observed a similarly troubling video where a child was severely beaten in a Vietnamese school.  Of course, there have also been many similarly troubling videos of students being attacked in U.S. and British schools.  As we have said many times, school safety challenges occur in every country our analysts have visited.

The CORE Foundation, the Ministry of Education and other sponsoring organizations did a superb job of planning for the event.  They also arranged for site visits to schools so I could become more familiar with how schools in Trinidad – Tobago operate to help me tailor the presentation so the information would be more practical for participants.  I found that there are some excellent practices and success stories in Trinidad – Tobago.  I was deeply impressed with the other presenters who all shared very pertinent and current strategies.  I also found the many professionals I had the opportunity to interact with were caring, competent and passionate advocates for the children.  I have already been asked to present again in Trinidad – Tobago, and feel honored and blessed to be asked to return.

Safe Havens International Executive Director, Mike Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Director, Mike Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

The Matter of School Bus Traffic Safety

School Bus Traffic Safety

A 4th-grade South Carolina student was struck by a school bus while riding his bicycle on school property.  The bus was pulling out of the bus loop by the school when it struck the young man.  The student was wearing a helmet, and was responsive as of the date of the story.  This story is an example of the dangers faced by schools every school day, especially with school bus traffic safety.

School Bus Traffic Safety

School Transportation-Related Incidents are the leading cause of deaths in K12 schools.

The #1 Cause of Death in K12 Schools

Active Shooter Incidents get a tremendous amount of press, with comments on them even being made by the President of the United States.  Yet, according to a 2014 observational study on the various causes of fatalities in U.S. K12 schools, Active Shooter Incidents ranked fourth.  The number one cause of fatalities?  School Transportation related incidents.

The study Relative Risks of Death in US K12 Schools reviewed various causes of fatalities in schools from 1998 to 2012, a 15 year period.  The top five known causes were, in order, School transportation-related incidents, school homicides, school suicides, Active Shooter Incidents, and interpersonal disputes.  During that 15-year period, there were 525 school transportation-related fatalities, 489 school homicides, 129 school suicides, 62 fatalities in Active Shooter Incidents, and 49 deaths from interpersonal disputes.

Are Schools Focusing on the Right Things?

Based on these numbers, a student is just under nine times more likely to be hurt in a school transportation-related incident than an Active Shooter Incident.  Keeping that in perspective, school transportation-related incidents account for less than one percent of all traffic accidents.

All this data begs the question, what are schools doing to address school bus traffic safety?  Student drop off and student pick up times are the most dangerous times a school faces, everyday.  Has school administration developed a way to keep buses and parents separated, and those two separated from walkers and bike riders?  Older schools often do not have these considerations in their designs, so it is up to the administration to develop suitable plans.  Newer schools often have these areas separated, but it will still take human supervision for proper school bus traffic safety.

The good news is that such planning usually only costs the time to create the plan, and train the staff in proper supervision.  However, once the plan is made, it should be frequently assessed to make sure it is addressing the often changing needs of the students and parents.  School bus traffic safety is not a one-and-done affair

Let’s spend some time preventing those things that are more likely to happen.