MN School Safety Center says relationship rebuilding is key to school safety

As the school year gets started and pandemic restrictions ease, Randy Johnson, director of the Minnesota School Safety Center, part of the Minnesota Department of Safety, says he believes rebuilding relationships between schools, students and families is key to keeping schools safe. 

The Minnesota School Safety Center works with schools and school districts giving them recommendations and guidance related to safety. This includes coming up with plans to respond to a natural disaster, updating school facilities and preparing for violent events.

Johnson says while violent events in schools are more rare than other safety threats they prepare for, it’s top of mind for many families, and certainly their office.

In Minnesota, the previous two school years came with many challenges for educators, students and families. Many were forced to stay home, learn online and only meet virtually. When students were in the classroom, many of them had to adhere to other restrictions like masking and social distancing. 

Johnson says these challenges made it more difficult for educators, students and parents to connect and build strong relationships. He says that he hopes this school year people focus on rebuilding those relationships, as they are crucial to school safety. 

"They’re reestablishing relationships that have been basically fractured over the past COVID-19 period of two years," Johnson said. "So it’s very much in a rebuilding, relearning within their education communities for everybody involved from students, to parents, to teachers and staff and administration and leadership and their public safety partners." 

He says typically when a student or young person commits an act of violence, there are warning signs beforehand. He says the better support there is for students and the more communication between students, educators and families, the better the chance they can connect a kid to the help they need before violence occurs. 

"What we’re really doing is focusing schools back on their main activities which is developing relationships with students with families and being able to not get into a place where we’re responding to a violent incident that has already occurred, but what are we doing on the front end to make sure we are providing supports for the families and the students," Johnson said.

Johnson says his biggest concern this school year is time. He says he’s hoping there is enough time in this school year to rebuild those relationships, and most importantly, make sure kids know they are valued and are capable of success.

"Everyone from the person in food service, to the bus company, to bus drivers, to principals and teachers have a very important role in developing relationships and making sure that kids are not invisible. They have to be recognized and recognized by name," Johnson said.