Since the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., brought the issue of school safety back to the forefront, public debate has centered around how to prevent another shooting from happening. At the same time, reported threats of school violence have risen, resulting in school lockdowns and questions from parents about how school leaders are going to keep students safe.

As school board members and lawmakers wrestle with the issue, parent group leaders also struggle with what role they should play. It’s understandable that we get emotional when the topic is the safety of our children. But when we’re talking about school security issues, we play a different role as parent group leaders than we do as parents.

Separate Personal Views From Parent Group Work

While there’s widespread agreement about preventing school violence, discussions about how to prevent school shootings have become divisive. As a PTO or PTA leader, your priority is getting more parents involved at school, but you risk alienating other parents at your school if you speak up to support (or criticize) one of these hot-button measures.

Be crystal clear about when you’re speaking for yourself as a parent and when you’re speaking as a parent group leader. In your parent group role, avoid votes endorsing one measure over another. Instead, help school officials inform parents about what’s happening at your school and in your wider community.

Facilitate Communication With Parents

With school officials fielding calls and emails from parents about security on campus, parent groups are in a good position to help administrators communicate with families. After the Parkland shooting, some PTOs organized parent information sessions where school officials could answer questions about school safety.

Review Your School’s Emergency Plan

Ask your principal for details about what will happen in cases of emergency, and find ways the PTO can help develop the plan or inform parents about it. The plan should designate staging areas for parents, students, and the media.

Carefully Evaluate Security-Related Purchases

It’s not unusual for parent groups to help fund school security upgrades. If your group is considering paying for security equipment, carefully evaluate the purchase before approving the expenditure. If the idea comes from parents, discuss it with the principal first. If your school district has a security office, ask officials there to review the plan and make sure it fits within district guidelines. Make sure any purchase your group makes will support district safety goals.


School Safety Resources

National School Safety Center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Safe Youth, Safe Schools

Educator’s School Safety Network

Students Against Violence Everywhere

National Association of Elementary School Principals’ School Safety Resources

National Education Association’s School Safety Resources

National PTA’s School Safety Resources

U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools

Eastern Kentucky University's School Safety Resource Guide

Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly.