Schools that utilize the playground as an entry and exit location for student pick up and drop off face a number of security challenges due to the size, number of access points, pedestrian and foot traffic, and visibility obstructions in the environment. Even where fences and gates are used to provide a degree of physical security, those barriers are often easily circumvented and rely upon the watchful eye of trained supervisors and established safety protocols to ensure that unauthorized parties are not intruding, and that children are not leaving the property unattended.
In this article, School Administration Expert, Dr. Suzanne Rodriguez reviews the standard of care for school supervision when playgrounds are utilized as student pick-up and drop-off locations.
School Playgrounds as Pick-Up and Drop-Off Locations – Expert Article
School safety and supervision of a play area is achieved through a comprehensive and standardized approach that includes specific policies and procedures that require training, practice, and enforcement, throughout all levels of the organization. The utilization of a playground as an entry/exit location can present unique safety challenges, including open or extended boundaries, play equipment with varying events, multiple access points, and the possibility for encounters with unauthorized intruders, especially during heavily trafficked student drop off and pick up times.
A comprehensive safety plan will account for access points and line of sight obstructions specific to that environment, communication channels and protocols between and among the supervisors on the playground and resources within the building, clear direction on how to supervise and when to intervene, and safety protocols following an incident.
When investigating an incident that took place at a school or during a school sanctioned activity, our supervision experts will often frame their investigation by examining what actions were taken before, during, and after the incident. This framework can be effective in determining whether the standard of care was met to provide reasonable safety.
BEFORE: SAFETY PLANS AND PLAYGROUND ACCESS CONTROL
Proactive playground safety planning to identify and understand hazards and implement corresponding mitigation strategies is one of the best ways to ensure reasonable safety and security. A comprehensive safety plan can include examination of:
- Number and types of access points to the play area
- Design of the playground and access corridors from inside the building or outdoor entry areas, including city sidewalks and pedestrian walkways
- Patterns of supervision within and surrounding the playground or play area
- Density of traffic patterns throughout parts of the school and playground area during various times of the day
- Lighting levels during anticipated hours of use (natural and artificial)
- Potential hazards by way of isolated areas and other potential supervision gaps and line of site obstructions
- Bell and class schedules and the integration of multiple grades in one area and/or one time period
Even before children enter the play area, part of the safety plan includes identifying all of the access points on the playground and setting the appropriate policies to ensure that they are limited, and either adequately supervised or secured and locked to limit unauthorized access. A supervisor should be assigned to every open or unlocked access point on a playground, so that no person(s) can enter or exit without being observed and permitted access by school personnel. The approach to access control should be proactive, rather than reactive.
For example, a supervisor should not wait until an individual has already entered the access point to approach and identify them. Similarly, supervisors should not make assumptions or give unknown persons the benefit of the doubt. An adult approaching the premises during pick up or drop off time is not necessarily a student’s parent/guardian and could be an intruder specifically targeting that time and place in an effort to breach security. For those reasons, access points require a stationed supervisor.
The Federal Commission on School Safety, a federal task force that conducts research and provides reports and recommendations to keep students safe at school, advises that entry control measures like stationed access point supervisors:
“allow access only to those who should be on the campus, and provide an opportunity to conduct searches of suspicious items or persons. Having entry controls in place can deter individuals from initiating violent attacks, detect attacks earlier from a safe distance, and delay attackers from reaching vulnerable locations or densely populated areas.”
An access point with no entry control measures in place creates a dangerous condition that puts students at risk.
PLAYGROUND SUPERVISOR TRAINING
School districts are responsible for providing intentional and continuous training for its playground supervisors, and a playground intruder protocol. School staff members assigned to playground supervision duty should receive training prior to ever stepping on to the playground for their first shift. The training program and the policies and procedures to be followed by playground supervisors are typically determined at the district level in general terms and specific to the physical environment of each school within that district. These may include:
- Methods of communication between supervisors on the playground and between playground supervisors and building administrators
- Identification and communication of playground rules that include active student involvement, modeling, and education
- Methods and strategies of supervising multiple children on the playground based upon the type of equipment, activity, fencing, space usage, boundaries, proximity to building, and visibility
- Knowledge of the developmental abilities of the students using the playground
- Protocols used to respond to and report playground injuries or incidents
DURING: WHAT WAS HAPPENING AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT
Standard student supervision practices require the full attention of playground supervisors. Talking and grouping among playground supervisors, for example, distracts them from their supervision duties. Supervision on a playground requires that personnel,
- Have visibility of all students in their charge
- Circulate throughout the playground in an unpredictable manner
- Maintain proximity to the students for whom they are supervising, and
- Have the ability to communicate with each other and staff within the building
These strategies serve to keep supervisors alert and prevent potential intruders from breaching access based upon observed patterns of supervisor movement and attention.
AFTER: INCIDENT REPORTING
It is important for supervisors on the playground or play area to know what to do if an incident or injury occurs. This includes when to move a child, call the nurse, remove children from the play area, alert an administrator, contact emergency medical or police services, and to whom the incident should be reported. They also need to know what school and district forms need to be completed to document details of an incident or injury after it occurs.
Reporting and documentation of an incident/injury is important not only to memorialize the incident but to track the incident for trending behaviors, circumstances, responses, security breaches, vulnerable areas, and to assist school and district administration to conduct internal investigations and notify law enforcement as needed. It also provides schools and school districts with data that can be utilized to inform and improve their supervision and safety protocols, practices, prevention, intervention, education, and training.
CHILD SUPERVISION AND PLAYGROUND SAFETY EXPERTS
Among the supervision experts at Robson Forensic are former teachers, school administrators, and child/adult day care program coordinators. They have hands on experience working in organized public and private care settings, designing and implementing safety policies, establishing processes and procedures to screen, hire, and train staff, and reporting/investigating incidents.
For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.
School Administration & Social Work Expert
Dr. Suzanne Rodriguez is an expert in school administration and social work with nearly 30 years of professional experience. Dr. Rodriguez earned her Doctorate in Education in addition to her Masters of Social Work and Bachelor of Science degrees. She holds credentials from the State of California relevant to school administration, school counseling, school social work, and child welfare and attendance. She served as Principal and Assistant Principal at the Dinuba Unified School District for nearly a decade prior to joining Robson Forensic. Working in both a conventional high school setting as well as alternative education environment, Suzanne had direct experience in campus safety and supervision.