Help Protect Your Child Against Meningococcal Disease

When we think of adolescence and young adulthood, we often think of exciting milestones and big moments. From prom, sporting events, college acceptances and more, it’s a period marked by change and anticipation for thrilling new chapters.

But we know it can sometimes be challenging to keep up with things like routine doctor’s appointments and which vaccinations our children need to help protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases as they continue to grow.

Meningococcal disease, an uncommon but potentially fatal illness is one of those vaccine-preventable diseases that makes it vitally important to stay up to date with your child’s CDC-recommended vaccination scheduleespecially as they continue to age, as teens and young adults are at an increased risk for contracting meningococcal disease through common sharing behaviors.

As your child continues to grow and experience life’s exciting milestones, keep the following tips and information in mind to help keep them healthy and protected against meningococcal disease:

Meningococcal DiseaseWhat is it?

Meningococcal disease is any illness caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, which can cause severe and deadly bacterial infections, such as meningococcal meningitisa bacterial infection that attacks the brain and spinal cord.

Common symptoms of meningococcal disease can include nausea, fever, stiff neck and a rash that looks like purple spots, among others. Early symptoms may seem like the flu but can progress quickly and can lead to death within 24 hours.

Teens and Young Adults

Meningococcal disease is contracted through respiratory droplets, leaving teens and young adults at an increased risk for contracting and spreading the disease simply by engaging in common behaviors like dorm- living, kissing, and sharing beverages.

It’s important to remember that the effects of meningococcal disease can be severe and deadly, so it’s essential that your child be seen by a healthcare provider right away if they’re experiencing symptoms.

Vaccinations Can Help Keep Your Child Healthy

Current meningococcal vaccines in the United States offer protection against all five of the most common groups of bacteria causing disease, but your child may need more than one vaccination to help keep them protected.

Help protect your child today

For more information about meningococcal disease and the vaccinations available to help protect your child, speak to a trusted healthcare provider, and read more on the CDC website.

This piece was developed with support from Pfizer.

Healthy Habits for Spring Break

Use these tips to have a worry-free, healthy vacation.

Mom applying sunscreen to child

Spring break is just around the corner, and many families are getting ready to go on vacation. While this is an exciting time for kids and parents alike, it’s important to make sure that everyone continues to practice healthy habits while enjoying their time off. Here are some healthy spring break habits for parents taking their kids on vacation:

  • Disinfect High Touch Surfaces: Regardless of where your spring break takes you, help protect your loved ones and reduce the spread of illness-causing germs by disinfecting surfaces while traveling. Lysol Disinfecting Wipes To-Go Packs are great for all your travel needs – they’re designed to clean and disinfect surfaces on-the-go while killing 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. Throw them in your bag, use them on planes, or anywhere else you might want some extra cleanliness while you travel.
  • Stay Hydrated: Traveling can be exhausting and dehydrating, especially if you’re spending time in the sun. Encourage everyone to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid sugary drinks that can lead to dehydration.1
  • Beat the Heat: If you’re vacationing somewhere warm or spending a lot of time outside, make sure your child is fully protected from the sun by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a factor of SPF 30 or higher to all exposed areas of skin. Apply 15 to 30 minutes before heading outside and make sure to reapply every 2 hours or after swimming.2
  • Handwashing: Washing your hands is a simple and effective way to help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, especially after eating, playing outside, blowing their nose, and coughing or sneezing. As always, make sure your child is using soap and water and washing for at least 20 seconds.3

As everyone returns to school after break, remind your kids to carry these habits back into the classroom for the reminder of the school year. For more resources, visit Lysol.com/HERE.


1 CDC.gov “Heat Stress: Hydration.”

2AAD.org “How to Apply Sunscreen.”

3CDC.com “Handwashing: Clean Hands Saves Lives.

5 Tips to Help Kids Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Child eating lunch
Kindergarten children eating lunch outdoors smiling to camera

As a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I know that healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for optimal growth and brain development. A healthy diet can reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure that can start in childhood. Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

However, as a mother of two young children, I also know that it is not always easy to get children to eat fruits and vegetables. Many children are not eating enough. In fact, many children as young as 1–5 years of age are not eating fruits and vegetables every day, according to a new CDC analysis. Here are five tips to help you get more fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet:

  1. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy as fresh options. Look for frozen vegetables without added sauces, or choose fruits canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. Frozen and canned options are longer lasting, may save you money, and can be a quick way to add fruits and vegetables to your kids’ meals. For example, you can add frozen berries to plain yogurt or add canned vegetables to a soup.
  2. Keep the kids involved. Studies show that involving children in meal prep is a good way to develop healthy eating habits. Here are some ways to involve younger and older children in meal prep:
    • For younger kids–start simple with something like a yogurt parfait or a healthy snack. Kids can find and place items in the grocery cart. They can also help with measuring, placing items in a bowl or serving dish, or mixing.
    • For older children–they can look up and choose recipes, make shopping lists, and even help keep track of ingredients in the store or online. They can help with cutting, chopping, peeling, or cooking on the stove. Remember that some skills may require supervision. For a free, simple way to get started, check out these kid-friendly Look and Cook Recipes from USDA’s MyPlate.
  3. Plan and pack ahead. It’s no secret that parents are busy, and it feels like our kids are always on the go! One quick and easy way to help your children eat more fruits and vegetables is to have pre-cut fruits and vegetables available in easy grab-and-go containers. You can even designate an easy-to-reach kid’s shelf where they know to go for these healthy snacks.
  4. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. It’s normal for your child to refuse some foods at first, but repetition is the key.  Especially when it comes to vegetables. The more kids are exposed to familiar and unfamiliar options, the more likely they are to eat them. In fact, experts believe it can take more than 10 tries before kids get used to a new taste. Exposure can start with looking, touching, smelling, or reading about new fruits and vegetables.
  5. Bring healthy snacks to share at school parties and events. Children can consume up to half of their daily calories at school. This includes class birthdays, holiday parties, and special events. Snacks are also often provided at after-school and extracurricular activities. When it’s your turn to bring a snack, think about skipping the sweet treats. Instead, choose healthy, easy, and tasty options. Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, try 100% fruit juice, low sodium vegetable juice, or water. Instead of sweets and baked goods, try yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks with a low fat dip, fresh fruit served in cupcake wrappers, and fruit kabobs.

For more information and resources about healthy eating habits for children at every age, please visit the Life Stages page at www.myplate.gov.

Dr. Adi Noiman is a nutrition epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a mother of two young children.

4 Seasonal Illness Resources for Parents

We know every parent goes into protect mode when illness enters their home, especially during the cold winter months. Lysol and National PTA are here to help prevent illness-causing germs from spreading any further, so students can remain in school as much as possible. To help set both your family and broader school community up for success, here are some resources you can use at home and encourage at school:

CDC’s Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT)

Encourage schools to take a pulse on their health education curriculum is by using HECAT, an assessment tool developed by the CDC. The tool will both help decision makers align on the curriculum, as well as how best to implement it in a way that is feasible for all involved.

Lysol HERE for Healthy Schools

There is no better time to institute or refresh your school’s healthy habits curriculum than during peak illness periods. Lysol is proud to provide free healthy habits resources and lesson plans that can be utilized both at home and in school. Materials range from lesson plans on how germs are transmitted in the classroom to fun activities reminding students best practices for handwashing. Visit Lysol.com/HERE to download your resources today.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

School health sectors, parents, and communities all have similar goals to improve childhood development. To help guide parents, teachers and students alike, utilize the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model to address health in schools. The school environment, educational structure and engagement from families all play a key role in helping to curb the spread of illness-causing germs, especially throughout cold & flu season.

Use Lysol Disinfecting Products

Disinfecting commonly touched surfaces helps to reduce the spread of germs, including those that may cause cold and flu. Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol Disinfectant Spray kill 99.9% of illness-causing germs on many of the surfaces we touch. Visit Lysol.com to learn more about to how to properly use the products to maximize their impact in helping you protect your home and school communities from illness-causing germs.

Wishing you a happy and healthy remainder of the school year!

Firearm Violence and ACEs: Prevention Is Possible

Girl holding sign in protest to end gun violence

Far too many people die or are injured by firearm violence and suicide. Far too many loved ones receive a phone call or a text that changes their lives forever. But their days started out like any other–adults getting ready for work and students heading to school–and in an instant, turned to tragedy. 

Trends in Violence and Disparities

  • In 2021, there were 47,286 firearm homicides and suicides in the United States – that is an average of nearly 130 deaths every day – and the numbers have been increasing. There were 6,544 more firearm homicides and 2,387 more firearm suicides in 2021 than just two years earlier in 2019.
  • Some groups have higher rates than others. Firearm homicide rates are highest among teens and young adults and among Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic or Latino populations. Firearm suicide rates are highest among older adults and among American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic White populations.
  • While the reasons for increasing rates and disparities are complex, several explanations have been proposed. Racism and longstanding inequities (e.g., in economic, educational, housing, and employment opportunities) contribute to disparities. Many social and economic stressors worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly within some racial and ethnic communities.

Impacts on Youth and Schools

Violence has far-reaching impacts on youth and the school environment. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are preventable, potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. These include experiencing or witnessing violence in the home. They also include aspects of a child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding. Experiencing ACEs can have physical, behavioral, and mental health effects in both the short-term and long-term for youth and their families.

A recent report on ACEs found:

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 students experienced at least one recent ACE during the pandemic, such as emotional abuse or food insecurity.
  • Students who experienced more ACEs during the pandemic were more likely to report poor mental health and to have attempted suicide in the past year than those who experienced no recent ACEs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Violence, firearm injuries and deaths, and ACEs are preventable. A comprehensive approach to preventing violence in communities is key, and school communities – parents, teachers, staff, and administrators – have an important role to play in prevention.

Role of School and Community Leaders in Prevention

CDC has released a range of prevention resources, including resources to help enhance school connectedness and prevent youth violence, community violence, ACEs, and suicide. These resources summarize the best available evidence for prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also has resources for families addressing childhood adversity and teen suicide prevention.

Here are 4 examples of strategies and programs that are specific to schools:

  • Child Parent Centers and Early Head Start. These programs create opportunities to support parents and engage them in their child’s academic development.
  • Middle– and high school–based programs. Programs that are implemented in classrooms can enhance communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, empathy, and impulse control. They have shown substantial benefits, including reductions in violence.
  • After-school programs. After-school programs address key risk and protective factors for youth violence. They help to provide supervision during critical times of the day when youth crime and violence peak. These programs also provide tutoring and homework assistance, formal skill-based programming, and structured learning activities to promote future success.
  • Safe routes home from school. Programs providing students safe routes to and from school place highly visible community members along these routes to monitor and assist with students’ safe travel.

These are just a few examples. Many incidents of violence in school start outside of school, and a comprehensive approach in communities is important to enhance safety inside and outside of school.

While it is not reasonable to expect schools to solve the violence problem on their own, schools are an important part of the solution to violence. Parents, teachers and the school community can take action to prevent firearm violence and ACEs.

By Dr. Thomas Simon, Senior Director for Scientific Program, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

Dr. Lois Lee, Chair of the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics

Dr. Simon and Dr. Lee joined National PTA President Anna King for a conversation on what parents need to know about ACEs, the impact of gun violence on school communities, and preventative actions school and community leaders can take to provide a safe and welcoming school environment for all children. Watch the recording at PTA.org/GunViolencePrevention.

New Generations United Report Highlights Grandfamilies’ Struggles with Food Insecurity

Existing help for food insecure families tends to assume kids live with parents, not grandparents, and should be fixed to reflect reality. 

Hunger hurts. Just ask Alice Carter. When she got a call from the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) telling her that her daughter’s parental rights had been severed from her grandson, the department asked if Alice would take him. Without hesitating, she stepped up to raise him and later her granddaughter, too. Her decision was transformative and kept her grandchildren out of foster care. 

At the time, Alice was a welder, a job that paid good money but required her to travel to work sites. Raising her grandchildren meant she had to quit her job because she couldn’t find reliable care for them while she was away at job locations. Alice lost her home because she couldn’t pay rent, and for more than a year, they lived in her car and struggled to find food. 

“I tried to appear at friends’ houses around dinner time so they would include my grandchildren. Sometimes people would give us food that had been in their refrigerator for two weeks, but it was better than nothing. Someone gave us a bag of oranges and we ate nothing but oranges for four days,” Alice says.

Sadly, Alice’s story is not unique. Generations United’s new report sheds light on families like Alice’s. It examines why grandfamilies, families in which children are raised by relatives or family friends without their parents in the home, often face high rates of hunger and food insecurity and recommends ways our policies can better support them. 

The findings are startling. Generations United’s 2022 State of Grandfamilies report found that between 2019 and 2020, 25% of grandparent-headed households with grandchildren and no parent present experienced food insecurity. This is more than twice the national rate. It’s also 60% higherthan that of all households with children (25% vs. 15%). Yet at the same time, in 2019 less than half of low-income grandfamilies accessed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP.

In the report, grandfamily caregivers share personal experiences and struggles with feeding their families. The impact is severe and can harm the health, nutrition and economic security of children and adults.

“You know, if you only have $10 to spend, you really can’t afford to go out and buy stuff for a healthy salad. You can buy beans and rice and chicken nuggets,” says Kathy Coleman, a grandfamily caregiver and director of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Resource Center of Louisiana.

“It would be a whole lot cheaper, but it’s not really beneficial to the children. But when you’re in that situation, where all you’re trying to do is feed these little babies’ hungry tummies, you do whatever you can to stretch your money and, to be quite honest, sometimes it’s not the most nutritional food.”

Factors Putting Grandfamilies at Risk

Grandfamilies are at increased risk of food insecurity due to factors such as poverty, racial discrimination, disability, marriage status, employment status, geography and accessibility. 

More than half (54%) of grandparent-headed households live in the South—states that tend to have food insecurity rates above the national average. Moreover, a large number of grandparent-headed households live in rural areas and are likely to experience food insecurity at a higher rate, in part because food sources often are further away from home and transportation options are sparse.

Due to cultural values and proud traditions, grandfamilies are disproportionately African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, and, in some areas, Latino. Yet, years of systemic racism and discrimination have led to disproportionate rates of food insecurity, as well as difficulties accessing support systems and inequitable supports for grandfamily caregivers and the children they raise. Additionally, 31% of grandchildren being raised by their grandparents in a grandparent-headed household are living below the poverty level, compared to 16% of all children nationwide.

Grandfamilies Face Greater Barriers Accessing Federal Nutrition Programs 

Federal food and nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and free and reduced-price school meals serve as a lifeline for millions of families struggling with hunger and food insecurity, but many grandfamilies face unique challenges when trying to access these services.

Grandfamily caregiver Linda Lewis from Oklahoma lives off her Social Security benefit and receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

“It’s tight,” she says. “I have to buy school uniforms and shoes out of that, too. We get SNAP, but the benefit amount is low and that doesn’t go nowhere.”

Linda finds herself visiting food pantries once a month for additional support, along with receiving meals from Meals on Wheels, which she says is helpful. 

Children living with an unlicensed kinship foster care parent are not automatically eligible for WIC benefits, though they may be automatically eligible through other avenues. If a child has been receiving support from WIC while living with a parent, when a grandparent caregiver takes over raising the child, WIC benefits are not always easily transferred or given to the caregiver or child.

Though SNAP is beneficial for grandfamilies, the application process can be difficult to navigate. Eligibility is based on household income, with no option to base it on the income of the child only. Many grandfamilies have household incomes slightly too high to qualify or they have assets they’ve saved for retirement. 

“When you’re a grandparent or caregiver raising children who are not your own, you don’t always meet the low-income eligibility in their state to qualify for SNAP,” says Kathy. “And in doing so, it hinders you from having the ability to have the nutritious food that you want and enough food to feed the family.”

Policy Recommendations to Support Grandfamilies

We can and must take steps toward providing grandfamilies with access to these proven, cost-effective programs they need to increase their family’s food security. These include:

  • Create a “child-only” SNAP benefit that does not consider household income in making eligibility determinations and, instead, is based upon the income of the child only. Children shouldn’t be penalized because their grandparents built up assets for retirement.
  • Support the development and use of kinship navigator programs that provide information, referral and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and supports that they and/or the children need. These programs work and should exist in every state.
  • Ensure automatic access to free and reduced-price school meals for children living in grandfamilies and help grandfamilies cover meal costs when school is out to help fill the meal gap during the summer when millions of children lose access to school meals.*
  • Creating joint meal programs for grandfamily caregivers and the children they raise. It was startling to learn during the pandemic that programs could deliver meals to older adults but not to the children living with them, and that programs could feed children but not the grandparents raising them who were standing beside them.

When children can’t be raised by their parents, they fare better with their grandparents than do children raised by nonrelatives in foster care. They have better mental health and behavioral health outcomes, higher levels of stability and a greater sense of belonging. They say they feel loved.  

As a nation, we must ensure that no grandfamily experiences hunger and food insecurity. Grandfamilies like Alice Carter’s must no longer feel isolated and alone as they step up to raise a relative’s or a friend’s children. Any grandfamily should know, immediately, where to go for help. And help should be easily accessible to them.

Learn more in Generations United’s 2022 State of Grandfamilies Report, Together at the Table: Improving the Nutrition, Health, and Well-Being of Grandfamilies.

Donna Butts is executive director of Generations United in Washington, DC.

*National PTA continues to champion free school meals for all children, particularly if they live in high poverty school districts through options such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) and allowing Medicaid direct certification to ensure automatic access to free school meals if a family already participates.

Related resources: Op-ed by National PTA President Anna King and Food Research & Action Center President Luis Guardia and National PTA letter to Senate Agriculture Committee on key child nutrition provisions to be included in the end-of-year appropriations package

3 Healthy Habits for the Holiday Season

Practice healthy habits for the holiday season!

As the weather begins to chill in parts of the country, Lysol and National PTA are looking forward to the special moments to come this time of the year! However, it’s important to remember the holiday months are also the start of cold & flu season. While your school communities prepare to celebrate with friends and family, make sure practicing healthy habits in schools remains top of mind for your family and classroom as we near holiday and winter festivities.

Keep the following tips in mind to help make your holiday celebrations as safe as possible:

  • Get your flu vaccination: One of the best ways to help slow the spread of seasonal, illness-causing germs is to receive your immunizations, like the flu shot. The CDC recommends anyone above the age of six months receive a flu shot every year.[1]
  • Wash your hands: When traveling, visiting others’ homes, or preparing for a gathering at your own house, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and often. Taking the recommended twenty seconds will go a long way in helping to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs throughout your winter adventures.[2]
  • Disinfect High-Touch Classroom Surfaces: Lysol Disinfecting Wipes make it easy to clean and disinfect surfaces at home and in classrooms. Disinfect frequently touched areas from desks to door handles as directed to help protect your school from the spread of germs. This year, refer your school leaders to apply for free Lysol Disinfecting Wipes by visiting Frontline Impact Project.

For more information and resources on healthy habits, please visit Lysol.com/HERE or sign up for updates here. Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season!


[1] CDC.org, “Who Needs a Flu Vaccine

[2] CDC.org, “12 Ways to Have a Healthy Holiday Season

Why A.L.I.C.E. Training Alone is Simply Not Good Enough for Our Schools

The May 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas was the third deadliest school shooting in the U.S. where a man—armed with an AR15-style rifle—killed 19 nineteen students and two teachers and wounded 17 others. This and so many other violent acts on school campus have schools seeking training and other protections for teachers, students and administrators.

A.L.I.C.E. is a widely implemented active-shooter training program and mindset for schools and businesses that reaches over one million students. Below are the A.L.I.C.E. guidelines along with our professional opinion on what could have, and sadly should have been done to prevent devastation from school shootings.

A – Alert. Alert is your first notification of danger.

The alert or alarm is not your first notification of danger. There are usually many notices or red flags before violence occurs. Whether actions in or out of school, social mediaor in-person threats, we must take potential warnings much more seriously.

L – Lockdown. Barricade the room. Prepare to EVACUATE or COUNTER if needed.

Lockdowns immobilize and paralyze movement. Direction for movement out of the danger zone, even during an active event, should be to run. It widens the target area and reduces risk of injury.

I – Inform. Communicate the intruder’s location and direction in real time.

Panicked and terrified children at Robb Elementary were trying to call their loved ones, giving incorrect information regarding their location while under duress. This approach will likely confuse any kind of appropriate response. Depending on their age, children are more likely to call loved ones than law enforcement but calling law enforcement could give a better chance of enacting appropriate action. Unfortunately, if the shooter is already on premises, this may be a reaction that is too little too late.

C – Counter. Create noise, movement, distance, and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s accuracy. The counter is not fighting.

In “L” it was lockdown and barricade. Students at Robb Elementary were told to make noise and distract. Surely, if an evacuation is not implemented, it is better to stay quiet and not draw attention to your location. It is unlikely that shooters will be distracted by anything other than being engaged by an armed professional. Are children expected to play noisy hide and seek with an active shooter? Shooters are fundamentally cowards and had law enforcement engaged, immediately and aggressively, this Uvalde tragedy might have been avoided.

E – Evacuate. When safe to do so, remove yourself from the danger zone.

At this point in A.L.I.C.E. training, the message is about mitigation and not prevention. Evacuation should be the first priority if there is any window of opportunity to do so (no pun intended). There was enough time and notice at Robb Elementary to evacuate instead of hiding. It is also critical to implement a double-check system for making certain that all windows and doors were locked. The classroom where victims were located was on the first floor, and had the classroom door been locked, there would have been time to pass children out of the window. Once outside the building, children should be told to run as fast as they can to safety.

Running out of the front door or climbing out of windows when the shooter is elsewhere would have given children a much better chance of survival as opposed to hiding in the same classroom.

For more information on personal safety training and anonymous reporting for schools please visit: www.SAFESavesLives.com/NPTA e-Mail Info@SAFESavesLives.com call 760.280.2838

Teaming Up for Safer Online Learning

Child Learning Online

Learning technologies are changing fast, accelerated by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students now spend a significant part of each day learning online and working with school-issued technology. In this new reality—where digital learning is pervasive and evolving—parents and schools must work together to keep kids safer online.

Digital learning is here to stay, so let’s make it safer!

Prior to the pandemic, 45% of American schools reported having a computer for every student. (NCES, 2021). Today, as many as 80% of K-12 students have and use a school-issued device, according to a recent national poll by Morning Consult.

Viewed one way, this is an extremely positive development: more digital access = more learning opportunities!

  • 93% of K-12 parents and 98% of educators agree that the internet is a useful tool that should be used to enhance learning.

Parents have understandable concerns about these new technologies, though.

  • 71% of K-12 parents report concerns about their child accessing explicit or harmful content on school-issued devices.
  • 80% of K-12 parents agree unrestricted internet access on school-issued devices can be harmful to student mental health.

Taken together, it’s understandable that:

  • 92% of parents believe it is necessary to have online educational technologies in place to prevent students from accessing harmful or explicit content.

See more findings from Morning Consult.

Thankfully, most schools do have internet safety plans these days.  In fact, schools are required under the Children’s Internet Protection Act to have an online safety program in order to receive certain funding. But, while these safeguards are critical, they aren’t necessarily enough.

“We need to get proactive now about internet safety… Completely banning the use of internet and social media is no longer a realistic option because a lot of schoolwork has transferred online… We all [parents, kids, and educators] need to educate ourselves and start productive dialogues.”

Maya Kruger, South Lake Middle PTSA, PTA Connected Smart Talk Participant

Safety starts with a conversation

Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be on the same team to ensure students’ online safety as well as theirprivacy. That requires open and active communication.

As a parent and former educator himself, GoGuardian Head of Privacy and Data Policy Teddy Hartman understands the balancing act that school districts must navigate as they deploy technology intended to keep students safe while also maintaining transparency. “As a first step,” Teddy says, “schools should publicly share any education vendors they work with and the types of data privacy protections both the school system and vendor have in place.”

Beyond that, educators and parents can help one another by holding community dialogues about the school’s digital safety technology plan. 

Start a digital safety dialogue in your community

National PTA recently teamed up with GoGuardian to create a resource for parents who want to promote improved online safety in their child’s school.

Check out our resource: Protecting Students Online

Inside, you’ll find a list of questions you can ask to better understand your district’s current digital safety plans and to open a dialogue in your community.

We hope this information sparks healthy conversations that help school communities put quality tools and support systems in place to keep our kids safer in a changing digital world.

GoGuardian has been a Proud National Sponsor of PTA since 2018 and is supporting the release of our updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships—going live this month! GoGuardian and the National PTA are committed to student success. Together, they are working to engage families and educators on solutions to best support student mental health and online safety.

Situational Awareness: Taking Ownership of School Safety

One strategy to help create a safer space where threats are mitigated and students and staff feel safe.

Schools should be safe havens for students, refuges from the harshness of the outside world. However, the opposite is too often true. According to a study published in the April 2018 issue of the Journal of Child and Family Studies, “More people have died or been injured in mass school shootings in the United States in the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century.”

The data are alarming, but we are not powerless to effect change. Tools are available to improve the security of our schools and the safety of our students without draining resources or budgets. Situational awareness is one such tool.

What Is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness (SA) is a basic, conscious practice of recognizing what is normal and, more importantly, anything that is abnormal in any given situation that signals potential danger. When you become more aware, you will be able to identify, assess, report, and avoid threats to you and everyone around you.

SA is about allowing your sixth sense to play a role in your daily life by:

  • Being mindful of your surroundings and the overall environment.
  • Being mindful of others around you and anything that might seem out of place.
  • Assessing actions, activities, and occurrences that might affect you.

Consider how SA might have saved 17 lives:

Nikolas Cruz—carrying a rifle case and a backpack filled with magazines— took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. Just after 2:00 p.m., he walked onto the crowded campus and into the freshman building.

Although a staff member noticed Cruz “walking purposefully” toward the building with a rifle case and backpack and mentioned it to a colleague, he did not challenge Cruz, a former student. In fact, nobody paid much attention until Cruz opened fire, killing 17 people.

While hindsight is 20/20, what if the Uber driver had been more aware of his fare—the young man’s demeanor and the fact that he was taking a rifle case to a school? What about the others who saw Cruz carrying the rifle case and heavy backpack but didn’t consider those red flags? What if those around Cruz had asked themselves these important questions:

  • Is there a visible health or safety threat?
  • Is there an individual acting out of the ordinary that might pose a risk?
  • Are there cues or contextual clues that indicate some- thing is “off”?
  • Is there anything I can do that would reduce the threat?
  • Should I act now or later?

This simple example illustrates that even the most basic level of situational awareness could have changed the course of history.

The Value of SA in Schools

The value of SA is not exclusive to preventing gun violence. SA can be a critical line of defense for any threat: school shootings, gang behavior, child abuse, sexual predators, drugs and alcohol and student self-harm.

Even having multiple security officers on campus is no guarantee of protection. They cannot be everywhere at once nor can they see everything at once. When combined with other safety measures, such as cameras, fences, metal detectors, and security officers, SA can provide an additional layer of protection by putting everyone into the safety and security mind-set, including administrative staff, security officers, custodial staff, teachers, students and parents.

A school with 10 people assigned to safety and security equates to 20 eyes and 20 ears. However, an aware campus where every student, parent, teacher and staff member are alert to anomalies can equate to thousands of eyes and ears. A cohesive approach to safety is one in which the campus is under the purview of “switched on” people.

By ensuring that every member of the school community understands SA and what to do when faced with a threat, a situation becomes much easier to handle and the threat level is reduced significantly. Involving students and parents in the safety process not only is a good idea, but is a significant shift in school safety in general.

Erring on the Side of Caution

When it comes to our schools, we all must err on the side of caution. In short, the rule should be “If you see something, say something.” But people won’t report something if they are unsure of what they saw. We are often reluctant to report something if we are the only ones who noticed it.

Safety and security become stronger when you empower the community to “be aware and to stay aware,” which in turn leads to an effective process of “If you see something, say something.”

The only sure way to limit violence in our schools and safeguard the children in our care is to act decisively when the moment calls for it. Does that mean educators should immediately call the police if a student is behaving erratically? Not necessarily. However, it does mean that they need to use good judgment when assessing threats to the student body and school staff. It means not shrugging off warning signs or nagging suspicions that something is wrong. Often, their intuition is trying to tell them something that their conscious mind has missed.

Being Alert to Early Warning Signs

Everyone should be alert to early warning signs that may indicate a potential threat. This is particularly true when it comes to threats stemming from individuals within the student body. Here are some of the more common signs:

  • Feelings of rejection
  • Low self-esteem
  • History of violence, particularly at home
  • Being bullied or bullying others
  • Withdrawal from peers and activities
  • Lack of coping skills

Doubtless, many students struggle with one or more of these challenges. Too often, they are part and parcel of being a teenager. However, when left unaddressed, a situation can become violent.

Ultimately, there is no way to eliminate all threats to the student body or school staff. However, it is possible through situational awareness to create a safer space where threats are mitigated—a place where children can feel safe to play, learn, form bonds with their peers and develop the strong foundation needed for a happy, productive life.

Together, we can make a difference when it comes to school safety.

Rick Collins is founder and executive director at SAFE—Situational Awareness for Everyone®.

Email: Rick@safesaveslives.com

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 School Business Affairs magazine and is reprinted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates.