Private School Security: What Planners and Administrators Need to Know

October 17, 2023|Drew Deatherage, Jason Keller & Dennis Porter

The importance of school security cannot be understated in today’s dynamic landscape. As private school administrators, you shoulder a significant responsibility to not only educate students but keep them safe.

The significance of security in private schools extends far beyond the basic need for safety. A well-structured security plan promotes a conducive learning environment, boosts parents’ confidence and trust, and ultimately enhances the school’s reputation. It’s not just about reacting to incidents but proactively preventing them.

The vast differences across building types, budgetary constraints, and leadership philosophies can make it feel as if there is no clear path toward developing a plan for private school security. However, there are a number of free resources available that can help private schools strengthen their security. Moreover, many of the most essential steps for creating safer schools have little to no cost, as they involve your people and the security processes put in place.

With that in mind, private school administrators must ask themselves: can you afford to compromise on any aspect that could affect your school’s overall success?

Key factors to consider in planning private school security

When it comes to private school security planning, a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. Each school has unique security needs that must be thoroughly assessed and addressed. Below are six critical steps to strengthen your private school security.

  1. Conduct a threat assessment

Identifying potential security threats is the starting point of any security plan. This involves studying the school’s surroundings, the socio-political climate, and specific risks related to your student population. For example, schools operating under religious organizations recognize they may face a different level of risk in their community that may drive a more stringent security approach. For help in conducting this assessment, private schools can use free guidelines and a supporting checklist from The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). The Secret Service also offers a free guide on how to conduct threat assessments.

A threat assessment should investigate risks to not only your facility but also its property and adjacencies to that property. Adjacencies can be particularly challenging for private schools that may not have the acreage available to public schools to create a buffer against nearby properties. Problems at the industrial complex, commercial strip center, bank, or gas station next door could all spill over to your doorstep.

  1. Install physical security measures

Technology investments should never drive your private school security planning. Without an understanding of your facility’s unique risks, technology cannot be expected to solve a problem. That said, technology can help address specific risks. Solutions can be as simple as adding motion lights to deter late visitors to more sophisticated alarm systems. From advanced access control that secures entrances and exits to surveillance cameras, the latest technology advancements can bolster your school’s security.

Before installing a physical security measure, private schools operating within a leased property or co-located with other services should discuss these changes with their landlord. A leased facility may add constraints to your security planning, such as limiting the ability to add security fencing or surveillance cameras.

While security systems have become more affordable over the years – and a knowledgeable contractor can potentially integrate multiple systems to help lower costs – federal and other grants may be available to fund these resources.

  1. Contract with security personnel

Trained security personnel are the backbone of many schools’ security plans. School resource officers can not only deter potential threats but also respond effectively when incidents occur. Private schools may wish to consider the value of contracting either private security or off-duty police officers to provide this same level of support.

While some schools may see the presence of armed security on campus as a detriment to the learning environment, others find that well-trained school resource officers become a part of their community.

  1. Develop and train on an emergency response plan

An effective emergency response plan can mitigate the impact of any incident. This plan should include evacuation procedures, communication channels, and first aid measures and define the involvement of emergency responders. This plan helps ensure everyone in the school, as well as your first responders, understand the appropriate response to unforeseen events.

Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to have an emergency response plan. However, this essential planning can make a critical difference in safely supporting your students through a disaster. Moreover, many organizations provide free resources or templates for developing an emergency response plan, including FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the I Love U Guys Foundation. These documents are well-researched, well-written, and easy to implement. Your state Department of Education may also be able to provide guidance ranging from free plan templates to on-site support.

  1. Policies and procedures

While your emergency response plan prescribes action in the face of a security threat, your policies and procedures are essential for maintaining a secure environment every day. These policies can define processes like visitor management, access control, and cybersecurity. For example, a policy against tailgating – when an individual who has authorized access into the school holds the door open to let the person behind them in – or against allowing students or staff to let strangers in via side doors can be an essential security measure. To be effective, policies and procedures must be comprehensive and well-communicated within your school.

  1. Train repeatedly and build awareness

Regular training around security and awareness sessions for staff and students is essential. They ensure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Regular drills and frequent training can be essential in driving decisive action in the event of a crisis. Training ensures your policies and procedures are followed and your technology investment is not wasted.

Awareness of safety procedures is also important for parents. Private schools tend to have an advantage when it comes to parent engagement. Leverage this advantage by building a culture of safety and awareness that extends to your entire school community. This begins with frequent, open communication with parents about the value of your school security approach and how they can support it.

Private schools may also wish to borrow an awareness strategy from public schools and create a behavioral threat assessment team focused on students’ behavioral health needs. This is a dedicated team within your school that helps gauge whether a child is simply acting out or may be dealing with deeper issues that need to be addressed. This team often consists of the administrator, teachers at each grade level, a mental health professional (either a school counselor or contracted community partner), and in some cases clergy members as well.

Build a safer future for our children

It can be tempting for private schools to define school shootings and other tragedies as a public school problem. Data from the CATO Institute found that, as of 2018, 94 percent of school shootings occur in public schools compared to 6 in private schools. However, lower risk is not the same as zero risk.

Many parents are considering making a switch to private schools today specifically over concerns around their children’s safety. This makes it even more imperative to have strong processes, well-trained people, and appropriate security technology in your facility.

Private school security planning is a multifaceted process that requires a deep understanding of potential threats, effective strategies, and continuous learning. The question is, are you ready to take this challenge head-on and build a safer school for our children?