School Safety Part 3: Beyond Locks and Alarms – Balancing Mental Health with Physical Security

Blog Post
Dana Loof
Chief Marketing Officer
Jill Lemond
Director of Education




Publish date

Jan 26, 2023

In this third installment of our Q&A series with Jill Lemond, Evolv’s director of education, we talk about social and emotional learning, mental health and gun violence, and the real impact of weapons detection screening systems in schools.

Prior to joining Evolv, Jill spent 12 years as the assistant superintendent of safety and school operations at Oxford Community Schools in Oxford, Michigan.

Q. What are the hidden costs of feeling unsafe in the classroom?

A. We know from study after study that the perception – and reality – of unsafe school environments directly correlates with lower learning outcomes. When students feel safe at school, they are better able to focus on learning and have stronger academic outcomes. Likewise, teachers and staff cannot be as effective in their imperative roles if they do not feel safe.

Q. How does social and emotional health factor into school safety planning?

A. Social and emotional health is significant when it comes to school safety planning. We are amidst a post-pandemic mental health crisis in the United States and it is particularly impacting our youth. I encourage schools to take a closer look at the increased number of counseling referrals, students self-reporting anxiety and depression, and the rise in suicides and suicidal ideation in their own school communities. When they do this, they’ll find that the data speaks volumes. Now consider the rising number of counseling referrals, along with an increase in school shootings and a growing need for more teachers and mental health professionals, and you’ll see how it sets the stage for more tragedies. I don’t think it’s possible to look at the numbers and not see the connection between troubled students and school shootings.

As school administrators explore the numbers behind the counseling referrals, they should also try to get to the root cause of mental health concerns and factor in social and emotional well-being into the school’s strategic safety plans. While schools are doing what they can to help students, keeping up with the demand is proving to be more than challenging, especially as we see long-term impacts of COVID-19 on student development and learning.

Q. Can you comment on the rise in swatting – hoax emergency calls to the police reporting school shootings – and its impact on communities?

A. The rise in swatting is having a big impact. We know that over the past decade, the classroom has changed dramatically due to social media and students having phones. It’s now reached a point where it’s almost too easy to create mass havoc like swatting.

Today, the threat of violence and school shootings is ever-present as students and teachers are constantly thinking that at any moment they could go into a lockdown or have to quickly respond to an emergency. When there is a fake incident reported and their fears become a reality, it amplifies anxiety. As swatting increases throughout the country, fears and anxiety rise in schools and everybody in the building is on high alert. Once the report is proven false, is it really fair to expect that students and teachers will be able to focus on learning and teaching for the rest of the day?

To end swatting, we need to do a better job explaining its impact to students, letting them know how to anonymously report when they hear or see something, and communicating very clearly about increasingly tougher laws that are being put into place. Let’s not forget that swatting is illegal. I also think educational campaigns about swatting should include students; giving them a voice and asking for their help is likely to decrease the number of fake calls. There is nothing funny about instigating panic and trauma.

Q. What are your thoughts on communities raising concerns that installing weapons detection screening systems creates distractions for students?

A. The overall rise in school shootings across the country means students are already distracted by the potential threat of violence. Our children are aware of the gun violence epidemic in this country and, through technology, have greater access to information than any previous generation. Weapons detection screening systems do not create distractions. Instead, they actually have the opposite effect because they allow students to stop thinking about weapons once they’re in the building. I’ve personally heard from countless students that having a weapons detection screening system in school offers them peace of mind.

Q. How does the introduction of weapons detection screening impact students and teachers?

A. Overall, it has an enormously positive impact on students and staff. During the morning arrival, it creates an opportunity for staff and administrators to greet students and let them know how glad they are to see them at school. The new protocol improves safety along with boosting social and emotional learning by recognizing every student, especially those that may have previously felt left out or ignored. Also, since systems like Evolv Express® are not metal detectors, students do not have to break their stride or stand in long lines due to false alarms that lead to unnecessary bag checks. The benefit of using technology like Evolv is that it does the security work, allowing teachers and staff to focus on their strengths in connecting with every student while reminding them of how safe they are in the school environment.

Q. What are some best practices for introducing weapons detection screening systems into schools?

A. Everybody in education knows that we need to do everything we can to make school environments safe for learning. So when it comes to introducing weapons detection screening systems, it requires a community effort. As key stakeholders have more meaningful safety experiences at venues like stadiums and theaters, where weapons screening systems are prevalent, the introduction of those same systems in schools will be easier.

From the perspective of evaluating weapons detection screening systems, I encourage school districts, parents and other interested parties to comment throughout the process. I want to, especially and specifically, invite students into the evaluation process, as well. Ask difficult questions and raise concerns so they can be addressed at the earliest stages of the decision-making process.

Also, I think it’s important for schools to communicate that weapons detection screening systems are not a standalone answer to gun violence. They must be part of a larger emergency operations plan. That plan takes into account the perspectives of parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators and other key stakeholders. It also outlines what to do and who to contact in an emergency and prioritizes regular training and drills to ensure everybody in the building knows what to do in the event of an incident or the detection of a gun or other prohibited items.

Essentially, the #1 best practice for introducing weapons detection screening systems into schools is beginning with a strategic emergency operations plan that is an integrated, collaborative effort spanning the people, processes and technology responsible for school safety.

Dana Loof
Chief Marketing Officer
Jill Lemond
Director of Education