With the start of a new school year, school safety is heavy on the minds of parents--which these days may mean worrying about possible violence at school.
But studies show school-age children are nine times more likely to be unintentionallly injured--on the playground or elsewhere--than to be victims of violence at school, according the National Safe Kids Campaign (Safe Kids USA). The group estimates that each year 2.2 million children ages 14 and below are injured in school-related accidents.
School-related accidents can be prevented, if parents prepare students and stay on the lookout for potential hazards. Here's a list of safety tips from Safe Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Maryland Safe Routes Program:
Walking to and from school:
- Plan a route ahead of time. Whether headed all the way to school or to the bus stop, plan a route with the fewest street crossings, and choose intersections with crossing guards, if possible.
- Do a practice walk to school with your child. Instruct them to stay away from vacant lots, fields, parks or other places with few people around.
- Teach children (on foot or bike) to obey all traffic signals, traffic signs, officers and crossing guards.
- Don't let your child walk alone. Have them walk with a brother or sister, friend, neighbor or other family member.
- Teach children never to talk with strangers, or accept a ride. (Remind them a "stranger" can also be someone you know but not well, or someone you know but don't trust).
- Teach your child to arrive at the bus stop early. When the bus arrives, remind them to to stay out of the street until it comes to a complete stop and to watch out for cars. Tell your child not to bend down in front of the bus to tie shoes or pick up objects (as the driver may not see them before starting to move).
Riding or driving to school:
- Drop off (and pick up) children as close to the school as possible. When dropping off, don’t drive away until you see they are inside the schoolyard or building.
- Remind children to stay seated at all times and keep their heads and arms inside the bus. Also remind them to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before getting up, and to cross the street 10 feet (or "10 giant steps") in front of the bus.
- Make sure the child wears a helmet if they ride a bike to school. Research indicates that a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent. For a motor scooter, add sturdy shoes, knee pads and elbow pads. (In Maryland, helmets are required by law for everyone under age 16, on a bike, motor scooter, or even skates).
- Make sure your child knows their home phone number and address. Your child should also have your work number, the number of another trusted adult and know to dial 911 for emergencies.
Adults should also take steps, to create safe walking and bicycling environments: (tips from the Maryland Safe Routes Program)
- Choose neighborhood schools within walking and bicycling distance from your home.
- Use sidewalks or bike paths that connect homes with schools.
- Make sure crossing a street is child-friendly (with school crossing guards, raised medians and/or traffic and pedestrian signals).
- Alert drivers near schools to the presence of students (on foot or bicycle), and the need to slow down.
- Use traffic calming devices installed and/or police enforcement, where needed.
- Make sure pathways are accessible for all students, with or without disabilities.
- Work with law enforcement and local officials, to enforce school zone safety and identify changes to improve walking and bicycling conditions around schools.
Once at School:
- Check out your child’s school playground equipment, looking for hazards such as rusted or broken equipment or unprotected surfaces. The ground area beneath should be covered with wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel, mats or fiber material to prevent head injury from falls. Report any hazards to the school.
- Make sure that the school anchors soccer goals into the ground so they won’t tip over and possibly crush a child.
- Teach children proper playground etiquette: No pushing, shoving, or crowding (or bullying).
- Give your child some bully-coping strategies (in advance). Teach children not give in to a bully’s demands, but instead to walk away or tell the bully to stop; or if that doesn't work, talk to the teacher.
- Avoid drawstrings (on hoods, or neck of jackets and sweatshirts). Drawstrings at the waist or jacket bottom should be no more than three inches long, to prevent being caught in vehicle doors or on playground equipment.
- Check that your child’s school has up-to-date information on recalled toys and other children’s products. Schools, daycares and parents can get recall information by fax, email, or by regular mail free of charge, by calling the Consumer Product Safety Commission hotline (800-638-2772), or visiting www.cpsc.gov.