You are on page 1of 10


SAFE ZONE: Creating & Maintaining A Safe Learning Environment for All Students Dan Blumhardt Coun 576 Professor Halverson-Westerberg November 28, 2010

2 Introduction Students experience difficult situations outside of school that schools have no control of. These experiences influence their behavior in the school environment, and can allow that to influence both their personal learning, and the learning of others through rude or abusive behaviors. However, schools should find ways to address what happens on campus, especially when it involves abusive behavior. Schools should be proactive enough that parents and teens can say that teachers and administrators are doing their part to prevent bullying. While schools cannot do anything to address abuse outside of school, they do have ability to at least minimize what happens in the hallways and classroom. Any program that addresses bullying that prevents even one suicide is worth it, but the benefits are likely greater in helping encourage a better learning environment, and respectful interaction in the school environment. On the positive side, this program provides concrete material for the goal of helping students in learning to live effectively in challenging, competitive, diverse world that requires knowing how to relate well to others. It is proposed that any such program should proactively address all forms of abuse on campus. As a result, it should have at least two goals. First, it should clearly define what abuse is school-wide. The word “abuse” conjures up images of news reports of teachers sexually or physically abusing a student, or movie bullies like “Biff” from Back to the Future, a large bodied ogre-like character who is bent on making every “nerd” he comes across his victim. The reality is that abuse takes on many forms, including many less obvious ones. A basic definition of abuse to be used is any intentional act that damages the emotional or physical well-being of another student. Second, it should have a means for dealing with abusive behaviors when they happen on campus. This program should empower administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community resources to contribute within ethical, legal, and realistic ways to the solution. It should also be proactive in dealing with situations immediately so they do not continue or escalate, and be preventative by addressing issues that contribute to abuse instead of only reacting to cases of abuse.

3 The Safe Zone Program The Basic Concepts The primary basic concept is that the entire campus during school hours is a 100% safe zone from any form of abuse. Schools already address safety in some specific ways, including things like guns, gangs, drugs, and improper teacher behavior, but other forms of abuse that impact student learning may be ignored without more emphasis. This includes verbal and physical insults that can easily fly under the radar, but significantly hurt students’ learning and home life. These includ e cyber bullying, demeaning comments about a student or to a student, and disrespectful treatment due to things such as different political views, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, religious beliefs, and lifestyle choices. This problem of abuse is increased by the “tribal” nature of the junior high and high school culture. Abuses may naturally occur between “tribes” such as the jock, prep, emo, and goth crowds without active prevention. Second, there are three basic school-wide concepts this program will emphasize, and will include parents inasmuch as they are able and willing. This includes a zero tolerance abuse policy, encouraging a commitment to “accepting those who are different from me, respecting those who disagree with me, and asking for help others ”, and a unified voice from the school to students that “were here for you!” These will be implemented preventatively, proactively, and positively. Implementation It is proactive in that is not merely another discipline policy that is used to react to cases of abuse. It is just as much, or more, a program that aims to educate and motivate all stakeholders, including students, in ways that eliminates or minimizes abuse before it happens. It is also a positive approach in that it aims not merely to produce another set of rules that students should not do, but rather promote the positive elements of respect, acceptance, and healthy conflict resolution. By going beyond “reactive” policies that address issues as they happen with these proactive and positive elements, it is also preventative.

4 The first piece to the program is a Safe Zone Committee. In order to ensure effective evaluation and implementation, a committee will be put together including law enforcement, school representatives (teachers, counselor, or administrator), parents, and key students and will meet one time each term. This committee will report to a designated administrator each term who will be the Safe Zone Administrator. The purpose of the committee is to evaluate how the program is working and ensure that all stakeholders are effectively carrying out the program in the school. The committee makes recommendations to the administrator, who is responsible for final decisions on changes, including placing members on the committee. The second part to this program works is education. First, all school staff will be trained on how to identify abuse, what they will be expected to do in their role, and their legal rights and responsibilities. Second, key stakeholders will be trained on conflict resolution techniques. Third, parents will receive a flyer about this program, which will include the basic program concepts and commitments, who to contact in case of abuse towards their child, and invitation to volunteer with it. Third, students will be educated through a scripted statement from teachers at the beginning of each term about the three school Safe Zone Commitments, and through posters in each classroom reminding students of them. These commitments will be taught as follows: We at ______________ School expect all students to help make sure our school is a safe place for every student agreeing to the following commitments: 1. I will ACCEPT those who are different from me. Those who look, choose, believe, and act different than me are more like me than they are different. 2. I will RESPECT those who disagree with me. I will treat others the way I want to be treated even when they disagree with me. 3. I will ASK for help when others don’t respect me.

We would like to also remind you at this time that we have a zero tolerance policy on abuse, which is to willfully hurt someone physically or emotionally. If you or someone else has been a victim of abuse, we encourage you to let a teacher or counselor know immediately so that we can help. You may also call the confidential abuse reporting hotline posted in every classroom.

5 Third, positive encouragement will be important. A peer mediation program will be put into place that trains and utilizes model students in conflict resolution. These students will be able to gain some of their required volunteer hours for graduation and be recognized publicly. This program will be by application. Efforts will be made to involve police or other community leaders to address the issues of respect, the effects of abuse, and how to get help during a school assembly each year during the first term. Teachers will be able to nominate 3 students each year that modeled these commitments. Lastly, signs will be posted in each classroom to remind students of the commitments and a clear definition of abuse. Fourth, recognizing that not all students are responsive to the above program elements, enforcement of these policies will be necessary to ensure students follow the Safe Zone commitments. The different stakeholders each play a part. Students will be expected to follow the zero abuse tolerance policy, and will have clear communication of what it is. Teachers will be expected to address abusive behaviors, to know when and how to intervene, and will hopefully be empowered to intervene as a result. Counselors will be expected to refer students out who have experienced significant abuse on campus for further evaluation and to know how to teach students conflict resolutions skills to students who are in conflict with other students on a frequent basis. Additionally, they will prepare reports for the administrator. The administrator will follow-up on abuse reports in order to make any necessary decisions. Parents will be notified of any reports related to their child by the administrator, either as a victim or as the accused, which will be explained more. Fifth, there will be specific resolution steps in order to ensure that the matter is handled proactively, thoughtfully, and in accordance with the legal rights and responsibilities of the school. First, the instance of abuse is reported by a teacher, student, or counselor. A school counselor will prepare the report after following up. Second, the Safe Zone administrator will notify parents or legal guardians of victims and accused students in each reported instance. Each report is to be treated seriously until proven otherwise. After evaluating each report, and talking with key parties such as students and teachers, the administrator will determine what step should be taken next. The letter will outline the resolution process,

6 advise them on how to speak their child about the situation, and tell how to contact the administrator if there are further questions or concerns. Second, the administrator may choose to discipline or seek further information before making a decision depending on what happened and the evidence at hand in the report. Discipline may include things such as suspension, police reporting, removal from extra-curricular activities, and probationary status for lesser offenses or situations where the details are unclear due to weak evidence. If any disciplinary action is necessary, a meeting will be held with the parents/legal guardians, student, counselor, and Safe Zone administrator. There are a number of other disciplinary policies and considerations in any given situation. First, in a probationary situation, school staff will be alerted regarding which students are on probation so that they can be on the lookout and so that further instances can be prevented. This “probationary” period provides students who abuse other students in less obvious ways to be educated through the meeting about the broad range that “abuse” includes, and also allow for students who either may have been falsely accused or may have had something happen that caused them to act different than they would most of the time be able to redeem themselves. In other words, this doesn’t try to vilify every kid that does something rude to another student, but does try to actively educate students on abuse and also recognize and deal with those students who are regularly active in abusing other students. Other Disciplinary Actions Second, parents, students, counselors, and administrators have other responsibilities once discipline has taken place. For administrators, any disciplinary action will be followed up with a call to parents and a pre-written letter explaining the Safe Zone commitments all school community participants are expected to follow, and any further details of the students’ disciplinary status. For each disciplinary situation, a parent, administrator, and counselor meeting will be set-up with the student and their parent(s) to discuss the situation and future steps. For counselors, they may choose to set-up a meeting with students who have been abused or their parents at their discretion if they identify the need. Another

7 enforcement tool will be an anonymous abuse reporting hotline for students at the school to be monitored by school counselors. For students, peer mentors from the mediation program may be paired up with a student who has been found to be abused to help provide support in the case of abuse and may have the opportunity to act as a peer mediator in some situations under the guidance of a counselor. For parents, they will be offered the opportunity to meet with the Safe Zone administrator or a counselor to get resources in dealing with the issue, including referrals to counselors, parent guides, and legal help. For law enforcement, they may be involved by the administrator depending on whether the situation requires it and whether or not the severity warrants it after conferring with the parents of the victim and the victim’s abuser. Summary The Safe Zone program does not pretend to be the complete solution to all bullying that takes place in schools. However, the benefits are significant for all stakeholders. For vulnerable students, they have reassurance and support from all stakeholders to ensure their physical and emotional safety. For victimizing students, there is strong oversight and incentive to prevent them from harming other students. For all students, there will be clear boundaries and expectations for their behavior, which creates a sense of safety. For teachers, they can be empowered with confidence to deal with abusive situations when they happen and not have to carry the burden of unruly students in their teaching environment where their job is to teach. For parents, there can be a stronger sense of trust and, for some, partnership with the school in significant ways. For administrators, counselors, and law enforcement working with the school, there is a clear plan in place to address a significant issue in the school. [The following pages 8,9, and 10 are a sample letter to key stakeholders, which provides much of this info in a more user-friendly format]


SAFE ZONE OVERVIEW FOR STAFF and COMMUNITY LEADERS To our Staff and Community Leaders, Looking ahead to the 2011-2012 school year coming right around the corner, we are grateful for your willingness to join us in this important program in our school. We know that you’ll agree safety must be a high priority here if we are to help all of our students achieve their best. Abuses, in all of its forms, are devastating for students, not only in their education, but personal lives as well. We look forward to how our teamwork with the Safe Zone program will minimize or eliminate this hurdle for our students in proactive ways. Equally important, we look forward to how this helps us equip our students in “Learning to Live” in a diverse world. Please read this overview to make sure we are on the same page and let us know if you have any questions! Sincerely, The Safe Zone Committee

SAFE ZONE OVERVIEW Safe Zone Program Goals: 1. To help our students “Learn to Live” by learning to get along in a diverse & challenging world. 2. To provide school-wide awareness and prevention of abusive behavior among students. 3. To empower teachers, administrators, and students to help eliminate abusive behavior. Preventative Program Elements:   Beginning of Semester Classroom Statement to be read to the classes at the beginning of each term by teachers Explaining the Safe Zone Commitments. School signs will be posted throughout the school with this info: Abuse: Hurting A Person’s Body or Feelings On Purpose. We’re here for you! If you or someone else has been a victim of abuse on campus, please let school staff know or call the confidential abuse reporting hotline right away! Hotline: (XXXXXX-XXXX) Staff Education: All teachers have been given instruction on identifying abusive behavior and have been instructed on what to do. Safe Zone Peer Mentoring Program: Students will be given opportunities by application only to participate in peer mentoring of students. This will provide opportunity to gain service hours. If needed or requested by a student, a mentor will be paired with a student as a resource and advocate, and will also serve on the Safe Zone committee as student advisors. The students will gain valuable leadership opportunities, and serve as advocates for their peers at the same time. Each year, one school assembly will invite influential community leaders to talk about the importance of respecting one another, valuing diversity, and how to get help when needed. Each teacher will nominate 3 students to be recognized at the end of each year for being consistent models of respect towards their peers.

 

 

9 Responsive Program Elements: 1. When a school staff is alerted either in person or through the hotline, each reported instance is taken seriously. 2. In each case, there are numerous people who play a part in ensuring that healthy resolution takes place, which may include you. Please see the Safe Zone Team Roles on page 3. Please note your role and let us know if you have any questions! 3. Quick response time and treating each accusation seriously are emphasized to assure victimized students that they are safe at our school and send a message to students that abusive behavior is taken seriously. One-Year Timeline: Summer: Design & print signage, put up around school before year starts, put together signage & Safe Zone info packets for teachers to use in their classroom, begin receiving applications for Peer Mentoring (Safe Zone is the vehicle for this), recruitment of committee members, and before the end of summer, mail “Overview Letter” to all stakeholders, including all teachers. Parents will receive a letter explaining the Safe Zone program as well. First Month of School: First Safe Zone Committee meeting, Peer Mentoring training by counselor(s) on committee, Safe Zone Commitments communicated to students at beginning of year, 1st Assembly highlighting the importance of respect and diversity with speaker from community. Teachers will have received training on Safe Zone commitments and on what to do with abuse situations by this time. First Month of Second Semester: Second Safe Zone Committee meeting, prepare report on year so far for Safe Zone administrator, evaluate success of communication and follow-through of the Safe Zone program and decide on any needed improvements, and send teachers reminders about end of year Safe Zone Commitments nominations. Last month of Second Semester: Third Committee meeting & party, prepare final report for administrator, post summer deadlines for Peer Mentor program applications, and recognize the nominated students and the Peer Mentors for their participation at party and in the school publicly. Abuse Response Timeline: 1. Abuse is reported by a student or school staff. School counselor for victim student submits an abuse report to the Safe Zone administrator after following up with student. 2. Administrator follows up with all parties, mails a letter to victim and accused student families outlining the Safe Zone policies and process, and calls both families after follow-up. 3. After determining disciplinary action, if necessary, a meeting between counselor, administrator, and each family separately is to discuss the chosen course of action. 4. Optional steps thereafter: Resources for the families, meeting with the counselor as individual or as family, referral to community resources (legal, counseling, etc.), peer mentor placement with the student, conflict resolution between students, and a safety plan for the victim that includes any changes in the school environment needed for his or her safety (class changes, transfer, extracurricular activities, regular check-in with counselor, etc).

10 SAFE ZONE TEAM ROLES Safe Zone Administrator   Recruits members for and determines policies and changes from end of term reports by the committee. Follows-up on Abuse Reports by School Counselors by: o Sends letter to parents of the victim and accused explaining the Safe Zone commitments, provide basic details of the report, and the next steps. o Gathering further details to determine any necessary disciplinary action. o If disciplinary action is needed, the administrator will meet will each family separately to communicate and discuss the decision along with the counselor. Safe Zone Committee   Meets at the end of each term to evaluate the program and provides a summary report to the Safe Zone Administrator. Parents, Peer Mentors (students trained by counselor), school representatives (will be headed up by a counselor, teacher, or administrator), and law enforcement (consultation role) School Counselors      Receive reports pertaining to student victims in their caseload from teachers, students, or the hotline. Follow-up with all relevant parties to put together abuse reports to give to the Administrator when it is possible disciplinary action will be needed. After providing report, counselor will reach out to the victim and offer to meet with him or her and with the family if determined necessary. The counselor will meet with the parent, student, and administrator in disciplinary situations. Will arrange peer mentors with the committee as needed. All School Staff & Students     Help identify abusive behavior on campus. Report abusive behavior to school counselors (their students). Some students serve as peer mentors as advocates and resources to younger students. Teachers nominate three students each year who model the Safe Zone Commitments. Family & Community Resources    Parents can talk with their child or with the school regarding reports, meet with the school staff for consultation or collaboration, or serve on the committee. Law enforcement can provide valuable ongoing consultation as committee members or as assembly speakers. Influential community leaders, such as athletes or politicians can provide speaking for assemblies focusing on respect and diversity.