Maintaining a Safe School

Whenever there is a school tragedy in the news, parents will inevitably ask me how we prepare for--and prevent--such events at BHS.  This is always a difficult question as community views vary on the definition of school safety and what that entails: Some prefer a stronger stance on a single point of entry with law enforcement presence on campus, and a locked gate during school hours while others ask about anti-bullying programs, how we teach young people tolerance and care for one another, and what kind of mental health services we provide.  While we can provide specific answers to these kinds of questions, we do have a general stance on school safety based on the growing body of research about what it means to be a safe school.

The knowledge base for keeping students from physical danger is growing clearer and clearer with each tragedy like the one in Florida last Thursday: we know that a safe school is a place where children will report danger and adults in charge will respond to those reports seriously.  Unfortunately, this is not the norm in schools and as a country we have watched in shock how premeditated and even publicized on social media these events have been. This is not an indictment of schools where terrible things have happened, it is a mandate upon each educator to look within and demand that we do more, be more than we ever thought would be required. 

One thing I know about high school students is that there is a deep goodness that resides inside of their collective hearts.  Even among our community's toughest young people, the desire to protect those they love is powerful, including their friends at school.  They are wired to want to tell when something bad is happening if they feel it will be believed and treated seriously.  It is our responsibility as adults to build relationships with our young people so they can trust that we will hear them, that their voice matters.  Parents must do that at home, and we must do this at school. 

How do we do that at Bonsall High School?

  • We learn the name of each student so they know we care about them as individuals
  • We personalize their learning so that when they struggle, they know we will do all we can to help them
  • We aim to ask questions rather than accuse, and listen carefully to responses before jumping to conclusions so they can feel safe reporting information
  • When we see concerning behavior, we intervene so students can trust we will act
  • We see parents as essential partners and communicate to teenagers the value of positive relationships with parents so they know we are on the same team
  • We provide mental health supports and services to students who seem sad, down, nervous, or angry so they don't have to be scared and alone
  • We emphasize understanding and empathy so that young people can learn to collaborate with others who are different from them
  • We invite trusted adults on campus on a regular basis so that students can feel an additional protective layer of support in school when they see familiar faces from the community in addition to their teachers

And yes, most importantly, when students report something that scares them, we listen and respond.

Bonsall High School students blow the whistle on things they are concerned about so loudly that it can sometimes deafen me.  But that piercing voice of concern brings me comfort when I am reminded how important it is that students will report danger to adults on campus. 

Thank you for raising such conscientious young people and please continue to encourage your children to always speak up and report, no matter how insignificant their concern may seem.  Let me reassure you as your child's principal, when that happens, each and every adult on our campus  listens and responds seriously.  It is the Bonsall Way.

Lee Fleming2 Comments