The title of this post is so disheartening. The school shooting in Florida has schools assessing their security plans and emergency drills, which has become as necessary today as huddling in the hallway for tornado drills was when I was in school. Schools are required by federal law to have emergency plans for students and staff with disabilities. The best way to ensure that your school has an emergency plan for your child is to advocate for it.
My elementary-age child’s classroom practiced “The Sheep, The Shepherd and The Wolf” emergency drill. The sheep are the young students, the shepherd is the teacher guiding them, and the wolf–the wolf is an active shooter who the teacher instructs the sheep to “stay out of the wolf’s way!” This method of preparing for an active shooter is used to instruct young children in a non-threatening way. Elementary children obviously cannot handle information about an active shooter drill that might be given to high school students.
As schools tailor emergency plans for students according to their development stage, the same tailored plans must occur with students with disabilities. How will pulled fire alarms, shouting, shooting and other paralyzing noises affect a child with autism? Or a child who cannot hear or see? Would a child with developmental delays understand emergency instructions? Plans for the most vulnerable should be tailored to individual needs, and practiced often.
This article in the Washington Post, “How can we prepare our kids with special needs for a school crisis” provides clear advice on ensuring that your child is included appropriately in emergency plans. Among much advice, the article suggests:
- Ask your school district about how they include students with disabilities in emergency plans (required by federal mandate). Here is a sample plan. In Ohio, school emergency management plans are not public record but discussions can and should happen.
- Talk with the administrators in your child’s building about your child and their plan for your child, specifically. If your child uses a wheelchair, are there steps to get outside at the door nearest your child’s room, and how will your child get outside?
- Include instructions in your child’s IEP or 504 plan detailing what help your child will need in an emergency. Make sure your child’s teachers are aware of what help your child will need. This “Teacher’s Emergency Plan Procedural Checklist” should be provided to your child’s teachers.
Schools are required to have emergency plans for students with disabilities, but the best way to help protect your child with special needs is to make sure there is a plan in place that is tailored to your child’s needs, and known by teachers and administrators.
Contact me at email@example.com with any questions.