As more and more students return to in-person learning, experts like Todd Miller of Rave Mobile Safety are encouraging school leaders to use the lessons learned from the pandemic to prepare for the unexpected or unplanned events that affect schools.

He recommends the following safety and security practices as students return to classrooms:

Ensure families see the most important messages. The pandemic has forced schools to ratchet up communications with parents and families to the degree that some messages may get lost. School leaders with the best intentions around keeping the community informed have faced the challenges of communicating changing guidelines and shifts between in-person and online learning. For the most important messages, recorded phone messages may be effective because they are more likely to stand out from emails and other digital communications; or consider a multi-modal approach such as a combination of calls, texts and emails.

Keep staff well-informed. An app with alerts may be the best way to make sure teachers see the most important messages as they sift through communications from principals and the central office. “Sending push notifications can rise above the level of other communications so teachers receive them in a timely manner,” Miller says. Digitizing handbooks and other emergency planning documents is another way to ensure that staff can more easily access critical information.

Track student trauma. The full scope of the trauma students have experienced may not become apparent until more children return to school. Along with isolation, illness and learning loss, students have also been exposed to higher rates of domestic violence. This could lead to behavioral problems at school. Miller encourages schools to offer additional modes where families and students can express their concerns or reach out for help, maybe in an anonymous fashion. Districts that don’t have such a system should consider implementing an anonymous reporting app so students can share concerns about a classmate who may be struggling.

Put panic buttons in place. Florida and New Jersey have passed Alyssa’s Law, which requires schools to provide teachers and staff with mobile panic buttons in the event of a medical, active-shooter or other emergency or crisis. These app-based tools will be especially crucial for districts and schools that have stopped using school resource officers, Miller says.