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Mel Gravely

Head Start’s Recommendations for Responding to Potentially Violent Situations

Head Start active shooter plan

This may be one of the most difficult topics I’ve ever had to write about. No one wants to think about a scenario in which our country’s most vulnerable, our children, might be the targets of intentional violence.

This week, another act of school violence made headlines, just seven miles from Columbine, Co, in which 20 years ago, a school shooting with the sole purpose of terror and bloodshed shocked and terrified the entire nation. In those 20 years, we have come to ask ourselves again and again: What is going on?

Since that seminal moment, experts throughout the world in fields such as sociology, psychology, and neurology have searched for answers. Some point to violent video games, while others blame the dissociative tendencies of technology in general. Some talk about bullying, while others place the blame on parenting. Obviously we won’t be able to solve that issue here. There are individuals far smarter than we are working on solving the why. What we can do now is explore the ways in which schools are responding, and encourage all Head Start agencies to review their own safety protocols. If history has taught us anything, it’s that preparation saves lives.

The Office of Head Start (OHS) released an email in March titled “Responding to Potentially Violent Situations,” in which it outlines what programs should be doing to ensure the safety of staff and children in their facilities.

Written Plan: First and foremost, OHS encourages programs to review the Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs and devise a “written plan that describes the practices and procedures to use if faced with a threat of violence.” It’s important that your plan is formalized in written form so that everyone can refer back to it.

Practice, Practice, Practice: Dealing with very young children in an emergency situation presents its own set of challenges. That’s why the adults must be extra prepared. Once a plan is made, make sure everyone is thoroughly trained on what the procedures are. Run drills regularly.

Inform and involve parents throughout the process: Running emergency drills of this sort brings up feelings that many parents would rather not think about. Be sure to involve parents in your planning process from the beginning, as well as give them plenty of notice to speak with their children about upcoming drills. Invite them to attend drills as well when appropriate.

Constantly review and revise: Review your plan after each drill and revise as necessary. Talk with other programs, share tips, or possibly even hire a safety expert to help you hone your plan. OHS reminds us that the Emergency Preparedness Manual includes a Practice, Review, Revise worksheet.

In Head Start, the safety of children is our first priority. While planning for the unthinkable may not be the most pleasant part of our jobs, it is a necessary part.

We want to hear from you. Do you have a written plan for emergency situations, including a possible active shooter? How often do you run drills? What tips do you have in communicating with parents and children about drills? Leave your comments below!


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