How to Notify Parents About an Emergency at School

By: SchoolReach  |  March 12th, 2014  |  No Comments »

As we discussed in our recent “10 Things to Do After a School Crisis” report, parent notification is an important early step to take after a crisis situation forces the evacuation of your school building.

An example of how to do this correctly can be seen in the way Rush County Schools in Indiana notified parents about a fire that sent students at Arlington Elementary home for the day.

Fortunately, the fire at Arlington was contained quickly; it was limited to an electrical panel in the maintenance room, and no students or staff members were hurt in the fire. However, the fire did make the early dismissal of students necessary since it happened around 10:00 AM, created smoke in the building, and caused a power outage.

Click here to listen to the call that Dr. John E. Williams, Superintendent of Rush County Schools, sent to parents around 11:00 AM on the day of the fire. There are five reasons why this message is great:

1. The safety of students is addressed early. Immediately after telling parents there was an emergency situation at Arlington, Dr. Williams states that all children are safe. Then he repeats himself for good measure, and at the end of the call states that children are safe once more. The repetition helps keep parents as calm as possible as they listen.

2. It communicates what happens next. After expressing that students are safe, Dr. Williams explains that students will be sent home on the buses.

3. It asks parents to stay away from the school. Realistically, many parents will go directly to the school when they hear an emergency has happened, regardless of what they are told to do. But Dr. Williams does his best to mitigate this tendency and give first responders room to work by asking parents to stay away. (It’s great that he mentioned students were being sent home on buses before making this request; parents might not have listened to the full call if the request to stay away was made first.)

4. It’s brief. In just 40 seconds, Dr. Williams delivers a calming message that focuses on the most important point: students are safe and being sent home. He doesn’t try to explain every last detail of the situation; instead, he provides only the most relevant information and does his best to prevent parents from rushing to the school.

5. It’s timely. By sending the message just an hour after the fire, Rush County administrators gave themselves their best chance at getting to parents with accurate information before news went live on the radio, TV, or social media.

Emergency notifications like Dr. Williams’ communicate that school leaders are in control of a situation and minimizes the spread of misinformation. A more serious emergency may require the sharing of additional information or instructions to parents, but for a minor emergency like the one seen at Arlington, Dr. Williams’ call hit all the right notes.

If a minor emergency such as an electrical fire, gas leak, or weather-related emergency hits your school, follow Dr. Williams’ lead when creating your parent notification with SchoolReach. And be sure to download our “10 Things to Do After a School Crisis” report for more expert tips on post-crisis operations.


New School Liability Concern: Student Health Information

By: SchoolReach  |  January 9th, 2014  |  No Comments »

To limit your school’s liability risks, you must protect students from all kinds of safety threats. It’s important to not only be prepared for the obvious and established threats, but also for the emerging threats that could catch you off-guard.

One of those emerging threats relates to the management of student health information. To discuss this issue, we recently spoke with Chas Scarantino, an expert in the field. Chas is the CEO of Magnus Health, and he was the speaker for our webinar on student health record liability risks.

SchoolReach: What types of student health information are schools managing today?

Chas Scarantino: Schools have to manage any medical information required for healthcare and treatment, concussions, enrollment, or attendance purposes. Data on immunizations, sports physical data, consent to dispense prescription or over the counter medication, consent to treat, action plans, and health history are just a few of the many types of health information that schools may be managing. Nearly all of this information is private information, and as such, it presents liability for a school if it is handled incorrectly.

SchoolReach: Can you give us an example of how mismanagement of student health information exposed a school to negative consequences?

Chas Scarantino: Two come to mind. In one case, a school took a folder of athlete health information to an away baseball game, and when the game was over, and they were on the bus back to campus, they realized all of the private information in that folder had been left on the dugout bench. It was entirely by accident, but still, that information was available to anyone who happened upon it. Similarly, one school was very conscious of “going green” and were very active in recycling. Unfortunately, the nurse recycled health records, which were then used by other students to make paper airplanes. One of the airplanes hit an administrator, and that’s when they realized the proper record processes weren’t in place. In both cases, the school could have been open to very real consequences, simply by making honest mistakes.

SchoolReach: What kinds of liability risks are associated with the handling of student medical information?

Chas Scarantino: We talk with schools about risks in four areas: regulatory compliance, data accuracy, data security, and emergency preparedness. Mishandling or improperly storing student health information can expose schools to legal penalties. And in situations where students fall ill on school property or school transportation, mismanagement of student health data can be a barrier to providing adequate student care.

SchoolReach: Let’s talk about regulatory compliance. What regulations do schools need to know about?

Chas Scarantino: The big two are FERPA, which regulates student education records, and HIPAA, the health care information privacy law. Most schools are aware of both, but don’t always know how or if they apply to their school. These federal regulations aim to protect student information from unauthorized viewing or dissemination. In addition to federal regulations, there are state and district regulations on management of student data as well. Failure to comply with these regulations opens schools up to significant penalties under the law.

SchoolReach: As more and more student records migrate from paper files to electronic databases, data privacy and accuracy become important concerns. What issues do school leaders need to address in these areas?

Chas Scarantino: Various laws and regulations require parents to provide certain kinds of health information to schools, but sometimes parents submit incomplete or incorrect data. For example, the parent is required to show proof of three doses of a vaccination, and they only submit proof of two. You need to confirm that submitted information is accurate and complete. Also, federal regulations closely define who can access student data and for what purposes it can be used. School leaders need to know how to properly secure this data, provide access to only the people authorized to see it, and destroy it safely. Data privacy goes a step beyond that as well. Privacy includes logging interaction with the health information – so even those individuals who are authorized to view the information should be tracked ,and an audit log should be created so that the information is protected beyond simple access.

SchoolReach: Earlier, you touched on medical emergencies. What emergency preparedness steps do schools need to take to mitigate their liability risks?

Chas Scarantino: Health information absolutely must be accessible to people who need to provide emergency care to a student. A healthcare provider should not have to start from square one in order to treat a student – they should have the information on hand so they know what medications the child is on, or what allergies they have. Schools should define access policies, in accordance with regulations, and ensure that the proper people have access to information, and that the information can be shared with authorized personnel. And test out the policies, know what works, what needs to be tweaked, and how the overall response can be improved. In addition, you need to be ready to deal with natural disasters that could wipe out a health center entirely, and other events that could cause technology disruptions. If data is properly backed up, these situations do not pose a threat to the integrity of the data, and parents can update information as needed.

SchoolReach: In your experience, how difficult is it for schools to defend against these risks, and what can schools do to protect themselves?

Chas Scarantino: The biggest thing here is taking the step to ask the hard questions. Once schools are investigating where their vulnerabilities lie, they can get processes in place. While creating processes and testing them out can be time consuming, once the hard work is done there, the rest can become relatively simple. A comprehensive system will address all four risks in one, so it’s not a matter of finding four answers to four problems – it’s a matter of finding one solution that can do everything.

Our webinar with Chas goes into more detail on these topics. Click here to view the webinar for free.

To learn more about Magnus Health, click here.


4 Overlooked Aspects of K-12 School Emergency Planning

By: SchoolReach  |  November 4th, 2013  |  No Comments »

K-12 School Emergency PlanningMany schools have some sort of planning process to prepare for emergencies, but some important aspects of emergency preparedness can be easily overlooked. Is your school failing to manage any of these aspects of emergency response planning?


1. Post-evacuation planning.

Several organizations, including SchoolReach, have produced information on school lockdown best practices and school crisis response.  But surviving a lockdown or emergency scenario is just the first step – what happens after the crisis is over?  In situations where students and staff must evacuate a building, school administrators should have a well-defined and tested reunification plan to manage the process of child-parent reunification.  View our webinar on reunification plans for more info on this topic.


2. Proactive crisis message development.

To be ready to respond to any emergency, you must be able to quickly communicate about the emergency to parents and the media.  A frantic check of Google or Bing in the middle of a crisis situation may not provide you with the scripts and letter templates you need.  Avoid being caught off guard by working with your communications director or a freelance consultant to develop these materials.  (Please note that if you’re a SchoolReach customer, we have crisis communications templates already available for your use.)


3. Customization of generic emergency plans.

A recent article in Campus Safety Magazine noted that it isn’t appropriate to rely on generic emergency response plan templates from government authorities or private vendors.  Article author Michael Dorn says that generic plans must be customized with a school’s unique situational realities in mind to provide maximum value in a crisis situation.  Dorn also notes that reliance on generic plans that aren’t customized can expose a school to significant risk in lawsuits over personal injury or death.  All emergency response plans should be customized with the help of local first responders to ensure they can protect staff and students in emergencies.


4. Staff training.

Costly court judgments against a school often happen because a student was injured or killed when improperly trained staff members weren’t able to deal with an adverse situation.  The 2012 case of a Florida school district, where a special needs student died after substitute bus personnel failed to properly supervise and care for her, is an important example.  (See our webinar on school bus safety for more information.)  Cutting corners on staff training can set your school up for unwanted situations like these when disaster strikes.  Train your substitutes, your hall monitors, your bus attendants, and your custodial staff.  In some situations, these personnel might have insights that can enhance your security planning.


For the latest information on school safety, keep up with our Professional Development Series webinars and white papers.  Click here to view.



Boost First Day Attendance: Decrease Student Absences, Improve Communication

By: SchoolReach  |  August 6th, 2013  |  No Comments »

By Greg Howard

Improving First Day AttendanceSeveral years ago, leaders of a school district in Ohio tried to boost first day attendance by leading an organized parent engagement campaign. The results of their efforts are something every school administrator should think about as the back-to-school season gets underway.

At the time, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that:

  • Yard signs announcing the district’s first day were widely distributed
  • Packages of free school supplies were handed out
  • Local churches told their congregants about the first day
  • Local radio stations made announcements about the first day

Undoubtedly, school leaders knew about the importance of first day attendance.  Low attendance numbers negatively impact district finances, and countless studies have shown that early absences in the school year can have a detrimental effect on student achievement.

So, what happened? According to the Enquirer, one fourth of enrolled students were no-shows.

School leaders speculated on the reasons why so many students missed class on the first day. Many thought that a significant year-over-year change in the school start date was a major factor. Not only did schools start almost a week earlier that year compared to the previous year, but the date changed as well – the first day moved from the beginning of the week to the end of the week.

We’re not sure if the district has had greater success in boosting first day attendance in recent years, but if they have, we’re willing to bet that that the district has done more to directly engage with parents.

For example, if you look at the Cincinnati Enquirer’s story on the district, it seems that their efforts were more about advertising than engagement. Yard signs, church bulletin announcements, and free bags of school supplies are great ideas, but none of those things are guaranteed to reach the parents who most need to hear about the first day of school.

Here at SchoolReach, we know that attendance notification works. Countless schools and districts have used our school notification system to launch voice, e-mail, and/or text messages about first day attendance to all their parents.

We’ve written about how St. Louis Public Schools used a local NFL player to record a first day attendance call that was well received by both parents and kids. Click here to read the case study if you haven’t seen it previously.

There are other ways to engage parents and get them thinking about the new school year as well. For example, our bus route notification service notifies parents about bus routes for the upcoming school year. Letting parents know about their children’s bus stops is but one more way a school can help get kids into the classroom.

If you’re looking for a way to help get students back into class this fall, we encourage you think about direct parent engagement. Whether you take advantage of tools from SchoolReach or utilize other means, direct contact with parents is the best way to let parents know about the new school year.


SchoolReach Reviews: Review SchoolReach Capabilities

By: SchoolReach  |  April 15th, 2013  |  No Comments »

By Greg Howard – April 15, 2013

SchoolReach ReviewsIn a recent post, we looked at how to conduct your own school notification system reviews. We wrote that post to show school leaders like you that it’s not difficult to review the capabilities of various school notification systems. The key is knowing what to look for. That’s why we outlined five specific criteria by which you should evaluate a provider.

You may be wondering how SchoolReach stacks up against those five criteria. If so, here are some SchoolReach reviews that examine our abilities in the areas that truly matter.

SchoolReach Reviews on Our Features and Functionalities

SchoolReach is a true school notification system – not an “auto-dialer,” not a “robocall” application, but a school notification system. As we noted in our previous post, there’s an important difference. True school notification systems like SchoolReach have the ability to broadcast voice, e-mail, and SMS text messages, in addition to handling other types of common communications that save staff time and energy. Moreover, SchoolReach’s real-time analytics reports show you which messages have been successfully delivered and which have not. And we do all of this while keeping your student data secure.

Furthermore, because we work closely with schools of all kinds, we understand the unique needs of school leaders and have designed SchoolReach accordingly. SchoolReach reviews from our clients give us high marks for the ability of our technology to meet their needs.

SchoolReach Reviews on Our Core Product Abilities

The core of our service is school notification, and our unique technologies help us do that very well. Our patented processes give us the ability to balance broadcast volume with local phone switch capacity and bypass voice mail greetings on mobile phones. In plain English, what this means is that we can deliver your broadcasts quickly and more effectively than any other provider. Unlike other providers, who struggle with the basics of message broadcasting, we excel at these basic functions.

SchoolReach reviews from customers also celebrate our ability to go beyond voice, text, or e-mail broadcasting. Need a system to send school closing notices and emergency alerts? SchoolReach can help. Do you want to automate your attendance calls? SchoolReach does that. Want to decrease the number of negative lunch balances you’re carrying? Send lunch balance reminders to parents automatically with SchoolReach. Need a simpler way to notify your parents about bus routes at the beginning of the year? Use our bus route alert service and stop wasting time and money on expensive mailings. Need a better way to collect parent, staff, or community feedback? Use our parent polls and surveys application to solicit feedback.

The number of things you can do with SchoolReach is limited only by your imagination. And if you want to integrate SchoolReach with your school information system – whether your SIS is a robust software program on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet – our data integration team can help.

SchoolReach Reviews on Our Experience with School Notification

SchoolReach has been a school notification system provider for more than 10 years. We work with virtually every kind of school, school district, and educational institution that exists – public, private, parochial, charter, religious, non-religious, small, large, urban, suburban, rural, and more! Just ask us for a reference from other schools in your state or region. As a national provider that serves schools in all 50 states, we have many customers who have conducted SchoolReach reviews and chosen us as their school notification provider. We can connect you with school leaders across the country who are satisfied SchoolReach customers.

SchoolReach Reviews on Our Customer Service Capabilities

We make a commitment to customer service unlike any other provider in our industry. You can call SchoolReach customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year, and hear the pleasant voice of one of our highly trained, St. Louis based client service representatives. We never outsource our customer service function to foreign companies or external call centers. Our reps have seen it all, and they can help you with any problem or concern.

Satisfied customers have provided glowing SchoolReach reviews on our customer service team, and we are happy to share these stories with you.

SchoolReach Reviews on Our Ability to Protect Student Data

Thoughtful SchoolReach reviews closely examine our ability to protect student data. If you take a look at our system, you will find that we use 256-bit encryption and 2048-bit root SSL protection from GeoTrust. We also use Cisco firewall security and a dual login process to block unauthorized users from gaining access to our system.

We’ve also designed our customer service processes to prevent the accidental transmission of student data to unauthorized users. In particular, we have chosen to avoid using live chat support. We feel that having our reps juggle several chat-based inquiries at once increases the risk that the wrong information could be disclosed to the wrong party. Therefore, unlike other providers who see no problem with this risk, we’ve decided to do the right thing and handle one customer service inquiry at a time.

Your Turn: Conduct Your Own SchoolReach Reviews!

SchoolReach reviews can be completed in a short amount of time. We invite you to set up an online demonstration with us and review our capabilities in more detail. Click here to contact us for more information.