Communicating With Parents Before, During, & After K-12 School Emergencies

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson


Communication with ParentsSummer is coming to an end which means K-12 schools are opening their doors and students are getting ready for the new academic year. It’s an exciting time, a fresh start, and for some graduating seniors, it’s their last year of high school! As parents send their kids off on those yellow school buses, they want to feel confident that their children are safe when they’re on school grounds. Especially with the highly publicized mass shootings that seem to be occurring more and more frequently.

School safety initiatives are taught to school administrators, staff, and faculty, but what about parents? It’s important to share emergency plans and communication plans with your school community so they can feel confident in your K-12 school or school district’s ability to keep their children safe and protected.

School Safety Terms to Share With Parents

It’s vital that your students’ parents understand the following terms when it comes to school safety. Definitions provided by Healthy Children:

  • Evacuation: Used to move students and staff out of the building.
    • With a simple evacuation, students and staff leave and move to a nearby pre-designated safe location and return to the school building right after the cause of evacuation is resolved. K-12 schools practice evacuations regularly (often monthly) during fire drills.
  • Relocation: Used to move students and staff to a pre-designated alternate site following evacuation when it is determined that returning to the school building will not take place within a reasonable period of time.
    • Depending on the time of day and the circumstances of the situation, students may be released early or school activities may be changed or put on hold until they are able to return to the school building. Plans should also be in place for students and staff with limited mobility who may need assistance moving to the relocation site.
  • Shelter-in-place: Used during severe weather or other environmental threats (e.g., air contamination due to a local fire).
    • This is a precautionary measure aimed to keep people safe while remaining indoors. (This is not the same thing as going to a shelter in case of a storm.) In schools, shelter-in-place involves having all students, staff, and visitors take shelter in pre-selected rooms that have phone access and stored disaster supplies kits and, preferably, access to a bathroom. The room doors are then shut.
  • Lockdown: Used when there is a perceived danger inside the building.
    • A lockdown includes securing each occupied room by locking the door(s) and directing people to move away from windows and doors. Hallways are cleared of students and school staff. Typically, local law enforcement arrives to secure the site and arrange for evacuation or return to usual building activities. Students are kept in their classrooms or other secured areas in the school until the lockdown has ended.
  • Lockout: Used to secure the building from a potential threat outside the building, such as when an unauthorized person is loitering on school grounds or when there is criminal activity in the neighborhood.
    • During a lockout, access to the building is restricted, but there may be some limited movement within the building.

Communication with Parents: Before an Emergency

As we’re heading back to school, educators should have open lines of communication with parents and guardians about their emergency plans. Although a K-12 school district may have an extremely organized emergency response plan in place for emergencies, critical events, and severe weather, if parents aren’t involved their response to an emergency event may make matters worse. It’s recommended that schools inform parents and guardians about the plans the school has for emergencies such as fires, blizzards, bomb threats, and armed intruders.

Related Blog: 4 Must-Haves To Look for in a School Alert App

There are several ways to communicate emergency plans with parents. Consider sending parents emergency plans through your school notification platform. This will ensure they receive them via their preferred communication method such as text, email, or phone call. Administrators and teachers can also set up meetings with parents to keep them in the loop on current school safety initiatives. Healthy Children says it best: “Every school has its own standards for parental involvement in school safety threats. To prevent possibly risking the safety of your child and their classmates, it is important for parents to understand what the school and local law enforcement require of them during these emergency situations.”

Communication with Parents: During an Emergency

Misinformation can spread easily if an emergency occurs at a K-12 school. This can end up adding fuel to the fire. If parents and guardians do not know what’s going on, many may try to contact the school or enter the school during an unsafe situation. According to Texas Preparatory Schools, “Parents too close to an incident often hinder the rescue attempts of police and fire officials on the scene.” For this reason, the best thing parents and guardians can do during an emergency is stay close to their phone, email, or preferred communication method and wait for a message from the school. Parents can also monitor local TV and radio stations for updates and instructions.

During an emergency messages should be sent out to parents and guardians to inform them of what is going on. Consider having a school safety officer or administrator in charge of composing and sending out emergency alert notifications to parents and guardians during an emergency. Some school notification platforms allow you to create preset messages which can make it easier to send out an alert quickly.

Communication with Parents: After an Emergency

After a school emergency or critical event, students may feel pressure, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. K-12 schools should certainly try to provide support to students who are suffering, but they should also communicate any warning signs with parents and guardians immediately.

Related Blog: What Happens to Graduating Seniors After a School Tragedy

Healthy Children recommends parents, “Watch for clues that your child might want to talk but understand that not all children will want or need to talk about these events. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Be aware of signs that children might be in distress, e.g., changes in behavior, anxiety, sleep problems, acting out, problems at school or with academic work.”

Consistently communicating with parents before, during, and after emergencies or critical events is a great way to instill confidence in your K-12 school and ensure parents feel comfortable when their children walk onto school premises. Are you looking for a reliable school notification system? Check out SwiftK12 today.   

SwiftK12 School Notifications

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!


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