HCDE Center’s Services Evolve with School Districts’ Safety Needs

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April 12, 2018 by HCDE Communications

View full length interview: https://youtu.be/86Xtfi-dB_8

School safety and security remain a concern as school districts deal with issues like school shootings, cyberbullying, discipline and emergency management planning. Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools continues to evolve and seek innovative ways to build safer and more secure learning environments for area school districts in greater Harris County.

Currently, the Center for Safe and Secure Schools focuses on four areas of services: school culture and climate, emergency management planning, safe schools plans and facility audits, and member benefits.

Ecomet Burley, director of the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, says the Center’s newest service area called Restorative Discipline provides alternative discipline methods versus the traditional, expulsionary or punitive systems. He took time this month to answer several questions about the Center, which was founded in 1999 at the request of area school superintendents to advance safe and secure school environments.  Learn more about the Center at www.safeandsecureschools.org.

Why is it important to have an organization like the Center for Safe and Secure Schools available to school districts?
We support school districts’ efforts to have safe teaching and learning environments.   We can become experts in this area because of our specialization and laser-focused scope of work around safety and security in the educational environment. Our staff has literally walked in the shoes of educators and understands the day-to-day challenges. We can design programs and trainings to fit the needs of educators who are in the “trenches” because we’ve been there and understand those challenges.

How can school districts assure parents that districts are doing a good job with school security?
Districts can assure parents that they are doing a good job with school security by communicating with parents throughout the year about what they are doing to keep their child’s school safe.  Parent meetings, e-newsletters and social media can be used to communicate real-time information before, during and after an emergency.  Parents appreciate being informed about things that may impact their child’s safety at school.
What about teachers? Are they stressed out about school safety?
Educators are very concerned about school safety these days.  With the recent high profile active shooter events, school safety and security has come to the forefront.  Policymakers, students, parents, educators and the public are intensely focused on this issue right now.

What about the issue of educators being armed in the classroom?
On the issue of arming educators in schools, this evokes a lot of strong emotions. Personally, I think that we must be careful with that idea, and it needs to be discussed and vetted well. In some rural districts it might make sense because of the amount of time it takes for first responders to get to the site, whereas here in the inner or suburban cities many of our schools have armed, commissioned officers on campus. The response time is typically three minutes or less. Ultimately, I think it is a local district decision that needs to be discussed and looked at in the context of what is best for our district and our situation.

How have your services evolved throughout the years to help districts? What do you think the biggest challenge is now for districts in terms of school safety?
The most urgent challenge in terms of school safety for educators and policy makers today is how do we protect our students from those who would come into our schools to hurt and kill students due to mental health issues or other reasons?  How do we better protect our students while they are at school? Additionally, educators understand that the “whole child” must be educated.  Social and emotional health for students has emerged as an issue that educators must address. They need to receive training to deal with some of the issues students bring to the school house today.

We respond to the emerging issues in education such as the concern over the number of black and Hispanic students being expelled, suspended or assigned to alternative education facilities.   We are responding to this issue with training in Restorative Discipline, which provides educators with skills to develop positive, healthy relationships with students. Educators explore alternative ways to hold students accountable for inappropriate behavior versus relying on exclusionary practices to correct inappropriate behavior.

How can Restorative Discipline help prevent acts of aggression in a school? Why is it needed today, and what does it look like when it’s put into action in a school community?
Restorative Discipline can help prevent acts of aggression through its intentional focus on building healthy, positive relationships. It teaches educators how to create “safe spaces” for students to have a voice and platform to talk about issues that may be affecting them at home or at school.  The “circle process” creates connectivity and discussion between students and teachers and students-to-students.  Moreover, it creates a support system and avenue to resolve conflicts, repair harm to relationships and teach social skills that are critical to peace-making and safe school learning/teaching environments.   However, there is a mind shift that is required, and that is a part of our school staff and student training.

What is an Emergency Operations Plan, or EOP? How does it affect the school community?
All Texas public schools are required by statute to have these plans in place and updated annually or as often as needed.  An EOP forms the foundation for a good, effective, school safety plan.  The EOP should outline a district or school’s plan to prevent, mitigate, respond and recover from an emergency event.   EOPs proactively provide guidance for staff, students, and administrators in event an emergency occurs. The entire school community should be aware of the plan and review it to use in the event of emergency.
For more information about the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, call 713-696-2127 or email eburley@hcde-texas.org .

About the Center for Safe and Secure Schools: The Center was established in 1999 at the request of school superintendents to advance safe and secure environments for learning and teaching. We partner with federal, state and local entities to take the lead in the development of increased safety and security strategies, standards and best practices for K-16 school environments for both students and educators. The Center continually seeks new and innovative opportunities to build safer and more secure learning environments, www.hcde-texas.org.

About Harris County Department of Education: HCDE provides special education, therapy services, early education, adult education and after-school programming. Services are funded by government grants, fees and a local property tax rate of $.005195. For every dollar in local property tax collected, HCDE provides $4.40 in services to the 25 Harris County school districts. HCDE also operates four campuses for students with profound special education needs and adjudicated youth who require a low student-teacher ratio and highly structured environment. One-hundred percent of students served on HCDE campuses are at-risk. The organization is governed by an elected board of seven trustees and has 1,060 employees and 33 facilities, including 15 Head Start centers. More info at www.hcde-texas.org.

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