Are Kids with Disabilities Safe at School?

Keeping kids with disabilities safe at school was the topic my FB live chat in the wake of the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, FL — located in Broward County, where I was born and still reside — which was praised as one of the safest cities in the country just days before the massacre. In the three months that have followed, we’ve witnessed countless shootings, including one today at a Indiana middle school.

As a person with cerebral palsy, I wonder: What happens to students with disabilities and/or special needs during an “active shooter” situation in American schools? Are these kids safe? When I did limited research via Google, I was shocked at the lack of information on the subject. While I found articles, resources on how to keep students safe, there wasn’t much about this segment of the population.

So, I decided to discuss the topic with community. We had a candid conversation about what we can do to advocate for and protect children with disabilities should a life-threatening situation occur at their school. We also talked about an app that may help keep kids safe.

Here are some helpful tips for parents from Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury and Dr. Laura Clarke, who’ve written about safety and students with disabilities.

What Children Must Be Able to Do During a Drill or Active Crisis

  1. Maintain silent
  2. Follow directions quickly
  3. Maintain a position/location
  4. Manage feelings of stress/frustration without acting out
    Manage schedule changes

This all sounds well and good, but what about keeping kids with disabilities safe at school? Any one of these can be challenging — if not nearly impossible — for children with disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, etc. — unless they’re taught necessary skills and provided with their required accommodations.

What Parents Can Do to Keep Kids with Disabilities Safe at School

The best way for parents to ensure their kids’ safety is to be an active part of the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team. Include local first responders and any medical personnel if your child has any medical needs, and behavioral support personnel if behavioral concerns are an issue. If your child needs support in the event of an emergency, you’ll need to address this in an IEP meeting. Here’s what to do:

  1. Start with the teacher and the IEP team
  2. Make sure all the professionals who have direct contact and influence over the child and policy are present
  3. Find out if your school has an IELP (Individual Emergency Lockdown Plan) in place for your child.
  4. Go over the Teacher’s Emergency Plan Procedural Checklist with the IEP team and use it to prepare to keep your kids safe

Which Students Need an IELP Plan?

Both Dr. Embury and Dr. Clarke recommend that all schools consider developing an IELP for any student who has:

“Significant health needs (requiring daily medication or medical intervention)”

“Significant behavioral needs (requiring daily behavior intervention and behavior supports”

“Significant communication needs (including using an alternative communication system such as PECS, sign language, or FM system to understand spoken language and/or communicate their thoughts and needs)”

“Significant physical supports (to transition around the school or across the classroom; for example, transitioning from a wheelchair to adaptive seating”

“Support needs for activities of daily living (ADLs), including dressing, feeding and/or toileting”

Share Your Thoughts

Is your child adequately prepared to survive a school crisis? Do you think keeping kids with disabilities safe at school is a problem?

I’m an author, a cerebral palsy advocate, and a writer. I’m also the host of the CP Conversations podast. https://nicoleluongo.com

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