Chief Marketing Officer
Director of Education
Publish dateJan 5, 2023
Band, student government, chess club, and athletics. These are some typical activities and student groups you see when you thumb through the class photos of any high school yearbook. Yet, seldom do schools create a student safety committee. This type of group can and should exist as an integral part of district safety planning. Student voices must be invited into the school security conversation as one of the most valuable perspectives on the topic.
Gun violence, especially when it occurs in schools, is never an easy topic to discuss. With gun violence continuing to escalate, Americans are rightfully concerned. One in five believe their chance of encountering an active shooter has increased since 2019, according to a recent survey. The difficult conversations need to happen if we want to decrease, and ultimately try to put an end to, gun violence in schools.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that more than 900 school shootings have taken place in this country since the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012; not to mention the 27 school shootings that occurred in 2022. As students continue to speak out as agents for change, it’s also hard to ignore the insights of students when it comes to creating safer school environments.
We sat down for a Q&A with Jill Lemond, Evolv’s Director of Education, to discuss the importance of inviting student voices into the safety planning process. Prior to joining Evolv, Jill spent 12 years as the assistant superintendent of safety and school operations at Oxford Community Schools in Oxford, Michigan where she learned, firsthand, of the tragic effects of school gun violence.
Q. Are students ever involved in school safety decisions?
A. Students are not typically included in school safety decisions because there is not a natural or obvious channel for them to enter the safety planning process. Many times, adults think they know better, but the reality is schools exist for the students and students should have a voice when it comes to safety. Certainly, students do not have the same experience, knowledge, and decision-making authority as say the superintendent or safety officer. However, they do have insight into what is happening with their peers in school and online and have the pulse of the building. Such student insight fills an intelligence gap that could potentially stop an incident.
Q. Wouldn’t including students in school safety increase their fear and anxiety?
A. It may seem counterintuitive to involve students in the school safety process since we are ultimately trying to protect our children. However, young adults today are already inundated with media and messages, sometimes erroneous ones, about school gun violence. They are acutely aware of the dangers of school shootings. Including students in the safety planning process empowers them and can actually help decrease their anxiety around gun violence. Also, when students have agency about what happens in their school, they are more connected to the building and community, making them more likely to make safety a priority and feel comfortable reporting potentially dangerous behavior.
Q. What types of safety programs can students get involved in that will make a difference in keeping everybody in school safe?
A. There are lots of ways that school administrators and faculty can include students – actively or anonymously – to improve safety.
Every time we were considering a new security technology in Oxford, we asked our key stakeholders to weigh in on the decision. This advisory group included local police, fire, superintendents and administrators, parents, and the community, among others. It is important
to include these participants, especially parents, to inform them of every decision and to alleviate any concerns about students being involved in the process. As a school is narrowing its decision, they can invite students to participate.
For example, a pilot of the Evolv Express system presents a great opportunity for students to try it out and participate in a poll about their experience. Another thought, with a system like Evolv, schools can get students even more involved by creating a contest for students to design what image should be on the panels of the system.
Also, for better or worse, social media continues to play a large role in many students’ lives. Meanwhile, there are not a lot of options for adults with good intentions to monitor what’s happening online. Schools can create pathways for students to anonymously report what they’re hearing or seeing from their peers on social media, and in the real world, as it pertains to safety concerns. Of course, there’s always the potential for incident reports that are not genuine threats. But if we can foster stronger relationships with students and give them the tools to communicate with adults, we can potentially decrease school gun violence.
Another benefit of including students in the safety planning process is that it helps them see law enforcement in a more positive way. They realize that police and other authority figures are not people to keep secrets from rather people our students can trust. They build relationships with other adults on the safety committee and have a variety of trusted advocates in the school community to share with any concerning information or threats.
Q. What resources should schools have in place to help prevent gun violence?
A. I think the best approach includes a balance of both technology and non-tech resources. From a tech point of view, there are anonymous reporting tools, software to scan school-issued accounts and flag potential issues, and advanced weapons screening systems like Evolv Express®.
From a non-tech point of view, it really comes down to establishing genuine relationships and trust with students. When a student trusts an adult in the building, they are less likely to commit an act of violence. They also feel more comfortable reporting anything that might indicate safety risks to other students. Additionally, students should have a way to self-report if they are at risk.
The sad truth is that if someone is intent on hurting people, they will find a way to do so. In my opinion, one of the most important ways to try to stop school shootings is to create an environment where all students feel seen, heard, valued, and respected. Too often, a small percentage of the student body is overlooked or ignored. If we can identify those students, reach out to them and make them feel welcome and included, it could make a big difference. This cannot be achieved during a singular event or activity; this requires an entire culture of intentional inclusion with zero tolerance for bullying or other harmful behaviors in the school environment.
Q. In your experience, what do students want when it comes to safety and security at school?
A. While students should play an active role in safety decisions if they choose, they should not be burdened with thinking about security all the time. That’s the role of adults. Students want to have fun, to explore, to learn, and to grow. Students want to know that they are valued and that school leadership is prioritizing the safety of their learning environment. Let’s allow them to focus on their education without the constant fear and anxiety of school violence on their minds. Our students deserve peace of mind so they are free to learn an instrument, run for student council, master chess and most importantly, have a yearbook filled with happy memories they can look back on in the years to come.