School violence, unfortunately, is on the minds of thousands of people. Protection of our children is extremely important, and it is imperative to find the right plan to keep everyone safe. As more schools implement drills and plans to protect children and staff, children with disabilities aren't included in the planning. How can we, as a nation, fix this huge safety dilemma for students with disabilities?
Most people absolutely hate the idea of school violence of any nature. When I went to school back in the 1980s and '90s, the most feared thing that could happen was a fire. Even then, I remember being on the third floor in eighth grade when there was a fire drill: Teachers told me to stay put and the class will be right back. No one practiced carrying me downstairs or any safety precautions whatsoever. I dreaded a fire because I convinced myself that I would be an afterthought and most likely would die alone. Luckily, I was in a one-floor building in high school, so evacuation seemed not to be a problem.
The sad reality, gleaned from various people I have spoken to or read about, is not much has changed for students with disabilities. Sometimes, the school doesn't mandate special needs classes to evacuate, because having them leave is a disruption and difficult. If no one practices safety procedures, how effective will they be when a real emergency occurs?
No one starts a school day by thinking that something horrible will happen to them. However, the reality is that violence can happen in any town. No one is immune, unfortunately. We might not be able to predict the future, but we can do our very best to practice and plan for a true violence incident or fire.
If you have a child who has special needs and has a one-on-one aide, you cannot be 100 percent certain that they will know what to do to protect your child. Training sometimes isn't offered. So, now the question is: How do you protect your student with special needs, such as cerebral palsy? You, as a parent or educator or student, need to speak up and start taking action. Now is the time, not when a crisis is already happening.
Here are questions that you can start with at your school:
1. Ask what the emergency plan is for special needs, and how it will be implemented. Do they practice this plan? How often?
2. Does the school personnel know how to take you or your child out of their wheelchair? Do they know how to handle equipment during an emergency?
3. Does the classroom have medication if a special needs child has to be contained in a classroom for an extended period of time?
4. Is there trained personnel who will assist with the student when crises happen?
5. Do the local police, fire station, and medical personnel know about special needs students and how to handle them when needed?
6. If the student is nonverbal, is there a preferred communication method or device that they can always have with them?
7. Does the one-on-one aide know of the emergency plan and what to do?
8. Does the student know of the plan? Can it be practiced with them?
9. How will students with anxiety, sensory, or emotional disabilities cope during a crisis? Is there a box of things to help them calm down and relax?
10. Are other students aware of the plan to help the special needs students?
All of these questions are excellent to ask school officials. Once created, have the plan in a student's individualized education program. Revise and practice the plan often.
Please don't give up if your school officials seem unconcerned. Contact your local emergency personnel to discuss the student. Keep pushing and asking questions. Make sure the school practices the plan as often as they do with the other students, if not more. We can't always prevent violence. But we can plan our reactions to it.
Bravo Echo Out,