The Standards of the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools recognize the importance of regulatory understanding and compliance and, also, of culture and climate when creating a healthy and safe school. School personnel need to have appropriate knowledge of laws and regulations, to follow safety protocols and to recognize that a safe school is as much about perceiving and anticipating risk as about law and compliance.
- Build a school culture and climate devoted to health and safety in every program and activity
- Help students learn to care appropriately for themselves and for others
- Nurture students’ growing maturity and independence, appropriately supervising and supporting them according to age and development
- Provide all adults who care for, teach, work with or are around students the necessary knowledge, training and skills to keep students safe
- Insure these adults possess the character, education, background and experience required to work safely with students and in the community
“Safety” is not a single static state; it is a capacity. A “safe school” is an approach and a practice. Schools must practice the ability to assess risk and make sensible choices. They must practice the perception of danger and possible alternatives, and additionally they must practice acting swiftly in some circumstances and behaving with restraint in others. “Safety,” to paraphrase Reinhold Niebuhr, “is the wisdom to know what needs to be changed.”
In a safe school community, adults care for children and young people, protecting them from foreseeable risk and appropriately nurturing their growing independence. A safe school helps students understand and respect potential dangers and, when appropriate, helps them take responsibility for themselves and others. Safety and health are approaches to life’s realities seen through the lens of experience and perspective young people often do not possess but will gain over time. Health and safety are often a matter of anticipation and prevention.
The “Considerations” listed here are intended to help schools identify, anticipate and address a variety of potential issues. The extent of the list underscores the complexity of establishing a healthy and safe environment. These “Considerations,” drawn in part from insurance companies’ and other school associations’ guidelines and check-lists, reflect the experience of NEASC Accredited schools. However, as substantial as this listing appears to be, it cannot address the full range of school activities and safety concerns facing each school and it cannot encompass certain aspects that may be unique to a school. The distinctive reality of many schools will call for the inclusion of many considerations not listed and may render some inapplicable.
Schools run playgrounds with slides and swings and monkey bars and programs like dodge ball and tag and frisbee. School sports include football, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, volleyball, track and field – including hurling javelins and shot-puts - and competitive archery. Schools operate rowing programs, swim teams, competitive and recreational sailing programs, kayaking and windsurfing, fencing, gymnastics, cheer-leading, cross country running and rock-climbing. Schools take students on tall-ships and winter camping trips, offer downhill ski racing, ski-jumping, Nordic skiing with courses many miles from campus and figure skating, water polo, synchronized swimming, competitive diving and scuba-diving. School groups and individuals travel to Europe, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Students in independent schools learn to ride and jump horses, operate chain saws, drill presses, table saws and acetylene torches. They install lighting for drama productions, make movies and mix chemicals in labs and dark rooms. Students carve wood and marble, place and remove their ceramic pieces from kilns and paint with oils and acrylics.
And, as they mature, they learn to drive, begin to date and negotiate their own sexuality and that of those around them. Students may have been approached by drug dealers or persons encouraging drug use. Some students never know deprivation, and some come to school hungry or return to an empty house. Usually the people they live with are loving and involved (or over-involved) and sometimes they prove difficult, or worse, abusive. Sometimes there’s a bigger kid or a mean kid or a strange adult influencing their lives. Sometimes students’ friends turn on them and sometimes their friends need a variety of support they have no idea how to provide.
Each of these realities, programs and activities present distinct challenges and their own unique universe of potential health and safety issues. The nearly unfathomable variety of situations lies at the heart of the NEASC emphasis on culture and climate. While no single individual could know or enforce every safety consideration in every school activity and no listing could encompass all potential risks, if all individuals know that health and safety is their first priority then the program of the school properly aims toward safety. Van Gogh (not known as an expert on safety) once wrote “If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time insight into and understanding of many things.” In schools, the culture and climate of safety is the “one thing” to know well.
Considering all the items here – and the hundreds more embedded in school programs – does not and cannot guarantee that a school has a plan or approach to resolving every possible contingency in each category. “A safe school” recognizes risks and helps adults and children confront and manage them appropriately. A safe school considers “safety” a goal for which it always strives.
There is no substitute for legal or other expert counsel. NEASC does not provide legal advice to schools and does not consider the list below a substitute for professional counsel.
NOTES ON COVID-19 AND PANDEMICS OF THE FUTURE
NEASC’s “Health and Safety Considerations” 2017 Edition included not a single word about Coronaviruses nor the disruptions and planning stemming from a world-wide pandemic. A few with vision and imagination had been predicting such events for many years [e.g. Bill Gates’s 2015 TED talk on the subject] but all schools will now be creating a Pandemic Plan as an essential component of both their Crisis Management and Strategic Plans. It does seem unfortunately likely, now, that some version of this experience may be replicated.
As of the August 2020 Edition, despite a great deal of attention over the last several months, NEASC does not possess sufficient information nor experience with operating school programs to articulate universally viable approaches.
At present, a great deal – including both how to treat and prevent this disease – remains unknown. It is perhaps of some value to remind ourselves that approaching “the unknown” is what schools are for. While none of us will get this situation exactly right, what we can do is remember how we expect our students to approach the unknown. “Grace under pressure” remains a useful touchstone as are scholarship, facts and, in the midst of it, dignity and sense of humor.
As of August 2020, NEASC suggests that all Pandemic Plans addressing Covid-19 should include the following:
- Clarifying the goals of the school’s plan with the understanding that no plan resolves all issues. If a school opens during this pandemic, that creates risks of virus transmission; if a school closes, sending young people and employees into other environments, the risks may still be present. Currently, thoughtful schools are preparing three different plans for: physical reopening, hybrid and fully online education. We are, as this is written, in a tentative space.
- Understanding that this virus is transmitted by humans primarily through the air, indicating that all measures to inhibit this transmission, particularly wearing approved masks and practicing social distancing, will be helpful;
- Recognizing that physical transmission is also possible so requiring careful hand washing [20 seconds of scrubbing is recommended] and thorough surface cleaning – doors, desks, bathrooms, locker rooms, hallways, etc. - will be beneficial;
- Encouraging frequent testing will better enable a school to recognize and then isolate infected individuals – understanding that asymptomatic people are fully capable of transmitting virus;
- Developing extensive and thoughtful provisions for online education, including training for faculty, creating a library of online resources and ensuring that all faculty and staff have the technological resources to work remotely whenever possible;
- Emphasizing the singular importance of communication with all constituencies and the effective use of multiple perspectives;
- Ensuring that teachers create and maintain strong personal relationships with students and families;
- Creating detailed plans for physical plant renovations/changes necessary to accomplish the above;
- Understanding the emotionally conflicted reactions of all parties to whatever plan is created
- Referring to NEASC Resources for examples of detailed and thorough plans