I had a meeting with my pastor to go over some of the communication plans we had in mind. As I parked in the combined church/school parking lot, I wondered if the church doors would be open since it was a school day. After I tried the front door, I was relieved it was unlocked and I wouldn’t have to wait for someone to let me in. But then I thought, What prevents me or anyone else from just wandering through the school?
When churches and schools share spaces, whether a shared building or shared campus, their differences can compromise the objectives of one or both ministry types. In this article, I will clarify some of the missional complexities facing shared spaces and present solutions for school security. This will by no means be a comprehensive list of solutions because they can vary by jurisdiction, but we can look at some of the big-picture issues. Here are three of the main issues that drive school security:
- Access control
- Training for response
It is not difficult to recognize missional differences between our churches and schools. While churches may be cognizant of security and most want some controls in place, their objectives are usually to be warm, welcoming, and accessible to members, volunteers, and the public. Schools, on the other hand, have an enormous, primary duty to keep their students and staff safe. Maybe you have experienced this tension in your ministry.
One might argue that the big-picture mission of our churches and schools is largely the same, but the functional focus of the activities of our churches and schools has inherent differences that require different solutions. The duty to protect students and staff is higher on the side of education, so I want to share some of the security concerns and obligations schools may be facing. You have a large influence that can support or erode the viability of your co-laborers’ ministry in education.
I want to appeal especially to pastors and elders to consider the value of Seventh-day Adventist education and acknowledge the responsibility you have as leaders to protect these valuable assets to ministry.
Controlling access is key to security at a school. This means that anyone attempting to gain access to the building is limited to controlled entry. This can be challenging as there may be multiple entrances to a campus and multiple doors to the school building(s). It is important to ensure that entrances are secured and that there is a screening process for visitors to the school. Visitors should be funneled through a main entrance where office staff or administration can see them arrive and engage with them to verify the purpose and validity of the visit.
This controlled access is compromised when doors are left unlocked or propped open for students going out for recess or janitorial staff cleaning the building. This can also happen in a shared space where visitors are able to access classrooms from a church entrance without the necessary screening.
In the event of a local threat, a school also needs to be able to completely lock down access to the building. Just like the analogy of a chain being only as strong as its weakest link, a school’s access control is only as strong as its weakest point of entry. This is why keys and keycards should be carefully controlled and monitored. Keys can be duplicated and shared over time. To ensure your access control system is effective, it is important to do the following: have a systematic process of accounting for keys, rekey (preferably with patented key systems), ensure people only have access to the parts of the building they need access to, and reclaim keys when someone leaves employment.
Access control is closely connected to the importance of knowing who belongs at the school. Schools are encouraged to clearly identify staff with name badges. This includes monitoring who is a known and authorized visitor and who is not. Visitors should be issued visitor badges that are clearly marked. If an individual without a badge is on campus or in the building, staff should be prepared to redirect that person to the front office to be properly checked in.
When a church and school share space, they may find that scheduling, traffic, and outdoor activities present further challenges. For example, a school will typically have a very busy and traffic-intensive pickup and drop-off time in their schedule. This is usually very regular on a day-to-day basis, but occasionally holidays or other events might cause a variation in the schedule. School recess also presents a challenge if students are utilizing the parking lot for playground activities. This can be compounded during a church event if members are not oriented to the process and safety expectations of the parking area. Coordination between the church and school is critical to ensure that each ministry communicates and collaborates to provide a safe and welcoming experience for their respective participants.
Both churches and schools can benefit from planning architecture that is warm and welcoming to the community while also meeting the specific security needs of their function. Innovations have developed in the area of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) that improve physical security while accounting for factors such as the warmth and attractiveness of a building, wellness, and teaching needs. Most churches and schools must work with what they have, and this is best done through close collaboration of stakeholders and strategic retrofitting when possible.
Church and school should also work together on emergency preparedness. What kind of emergency supplies (e.g., AEDs, trauma kits, first-aid kits) are on hand and where are they located? Who has been trained and/or certified? What kind of emergency procedures (e.g., evacuation, shelter-in-place, lockdown) have been adopted? How often are drills being conducted? The best time to effectively coordinate all these pieces is now.
We cannot afford for our schools to be lax in the care and custody of students and staff. Unfortunately, in many places, there is much to be done to meet the minimum security requirements and the expectations of parents. Let’s not forget that excellence in this aspect of ministry is indispensable and a blessing to our whole ecosystem of ministries. We should support our schools in this now before an incident happens that is damaging to lives, reputation, and our ability to provide this important ministry.
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