Recently, professionals from more than a dozen Ohio Board of Developmental Disabilities gathered together in Columbus, OH for our first-ever PublicSchoolWORKS Safety Summit. The one-day event combined thought leadership, peer panel discussions and networking opportunities in order to inform and engage those who are working hard at their service locations to support individuals with disabilities. There were many important takeaways from the event, but several key themes emerged that are helping us here at PublicSchoolWORKS think about how we approach our work.
Keeping everyone safe
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Most schools have emergency response plans to support safety and prepare students for a potential crisis, but few plans address the complex needs of students with disabilities. Unexpected drills, loud noises, demands to be extra quiet or to move quickly can completely overwhelm students with disabilities. Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury, associate professor of special education at Eastern Kentucky University and an expert on supporting students with disabilities during school crises, kicked off our Summit by offering ways that service providers can support the needs of students and individuals with disabilities when developing safety protocols.
“School and community supports should include analysis of school plans AND student strengths and needs so that students with disabilities have the best opportunity to be safe in school crises,” said Dr. Embury.
She recommends that schools and service providers develop individual emergency and lockdown plans (IELP) to provide specific instructions and needed supports for students with disabilities during an emergency. For example, school lockdown situations usually require that students be silent—but this might be beyond the abilities for some students. Individual plans can ensure that each student’s strengths and needs are met and provide opportunities to practice meeting those needs during an emergency.
Partnering with first responders
Our Summit also included a panel discussion on important safety and compliance challenges, including how to build connections with first responders. Working with local first responders is a critical part of any safety strategy, but perhaps even more for schools and service providers working with students with disabilities. Our panel emphasized that students with disabilities are vulnerable and the more first responders connect with these students and understand their needs, the better prepared they will be to support them in times of emergency.
The group also discussed tips and best practices for engaging with first responders, such as hosting “touch-a-truck” events, extending BODD offices and buildings to police and fire departments for trainings, and involving first responders on advocacy trips to the state.
Reducing the compliance burden
The ever-increasing health and safety compliance training required for school districts and service providers can be a heavy burden for HR departments. For BODDs, transient staff, BODD-specific health and safety policies, and unique staff training needs add complexity to delivering a comprehensive safety training program.
“We have a lot of transient staff, many who are not at their desk day to day,” said Shawn Garver, director of Hamilton County DDS. “PublicSchoolWORKS provides a comfort to us because the automation, tracking and follow up provides the groundwork to support our training needs.”
Having a turnkey solution in place can provide administrators comfort and peace of mind that requirements are being met, staff are equipped with the information and skills they need, and free up time to focus on serving individuals with disabilities.
Power in community
At PublicSchoolWORKS, we believe in the power of bringing administrators together. It was wonderful to see PublicSchoolWORKs partners and non-customers alike collaborating and sharing ideas, experiences and approaches toward safety and compliance.
We hope to offer more events like this in the future. If you’re a K-12 administrator interested in learning how to leverage PublicSchoolWORKS to simplify school safety and compliance in your district, we’d love to hear from you.