Getting seven essential elements in place before students return to the classroom enhances the safety, well-being, and compliance of your schools.

7 compliance areas for district leaders’ back-to-school checklists

Getting seven essential elements in place before students return to the classroom enhances the safety, well-being, and compliance of your schools

Key points:

  • District leaders will want to shore up vital compliance elements before the new school year kicks off
  • These areas include school wellness, hazard plans, and information surrounding medical procedures
  • See related article: 4 best practices to support and retain school leaders

As summer nears an end, now is the time for school and district leaders to review and update key plans, policies, and procedures. By getting these essential elements in place and up to date before students return to the classroom, you enhance the safety, well-being, and compliance of your schools. Here are seven areas that you should prioritize before the end of summer.

1. A school safety plan is the foundation of a well-prepared educational institution, and nearly all states require them. These plans may include:

  • Strategies and protocols to address potential threats
  • Emergency response procedures
  • Evacuation plans
  • Effective communication strategies provides a Safety Readiness Tool with a series of 10 questions covering the following topics:

  • Designated staff
  • School climate
  • Reporting systems
  • Threat assessment
  • Emergency operation plans
  • Site assessment
  • Staff and faculty training
  • Student training
  • Exercises and drills
  • Recovery plans

Make sure to incorporate lessons learned from recent incidents or drills and explore emerging technologies that can enhance safety. And importantly, share the safety plan so that all members of the school community are aware of their roles and responsibilities during emergencies.

2. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that “proper implementation of lockout/tag-out procedures can prevent an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries annually.” A comprehensive lockout/tag-out (LOTO) program for school districts includes identifying:

  • All powered machinery in all school buildings
  • All sources of energy in all school buildings
  • All energy-isolation devices (switch panels, etc.) in all school buildings
  • Employees who use and/or service powered equipment

The program should also provide appropriate procedures for shutting down, locking and tagging-out, and restarting powered equipment in all school buildings. Along with providing personnel training in proper LOTO procedures, your district should encourage ongoing compliance by implementing a system of regular equipment maintenance, inspections, and audits.

3. A robust school wellness policy promotes the health and well-being of students, staff, and the school community. Districts should review their existing wellness policy annually to assess its effectiveness in addressing nutrition, physical activity, identifying students struggling with mental health, mental health support, and overall wellness. Incorporating evidence-based strategies enhances nutrition programs, encourages physical activity, and prioritizes mental health support.

Students, parents, teachers, and health professionals can offer diverse perspectives, and collaborating with local health agencies, community organizations, and experts will increase the resources at your disposal and foster a culture of wellness.

4. A comprehensive district training plan equips staff members and educators with the knowledge and skills to perform their duties safely and effectively. While a written training plan isn’t mandated, it can help your district meet all board, state, and federal training mandates.

Start by evaluating your current training programs to identify gaps or areas for improvement. Collaborate with relevant stakeholders to develop training plans and requirements for specific roles within the district, such as administrators, teachers, and support staff. Another way to boost compliance is to implement online training modules that offer staff flexibility and accessibility.

5. Protecting staff and students from bloodborne pathogens is of utmost importance in protecting employees and from a number of diseases. OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires covered employers to do the following:

  1. Write an exposure control plan. Evaluate every job-related task in the school in terms of the likelihood of exposure to blood, blood products, and other potentially infectious materials.
  2. Implement the use of universal precautions such as hand-washing and glove-wearing.
  3. Identify and use engineering controls like self-sheathing needles.
  4. Write policies outlining appropriate work practices to reduce the possibility of exposure.
  5. Provide personal protective equipment, such as gloves or masks.
  6. Offer free HBV vaccination to all employees who are reasonably likely to come into contact with blood and other potentially infectious materials as a direct result of their responsibilities. Provide information and training for these employees on bloodborne pathogens, hepatitis B vaccination, medical evaluation, and post exposure follow-up.
  7. Offer post-exposure evaluation and follow-up to all employees who experience an exposure incident.
  8. Communicate hazards using clear labels and signs.
  9. Maintain a log of injuries from contaminated sharps.
  10. Maintain employee medical training records to document compliance with these regulations. The documentation must include records of employees who have received vaccinations and written refusals of employees to receive vaccinations.

Review and update your district’s bloodborne pathogens policy annually. You might also consider partnering with local healthcare providers to offer vaccination programs, regular screenings, and educational resources. As with all safety measures, remember to communicate updates to the policy so that all staff members are well-informed about the necessary precautions and procedures to minimize the risk of exposure.

6. Effective communication about hazardous substances and chemicals is essential to maintaining a safe learning environment. OSHA enacted the Hazard Communication Standard to “ensure chemical safety in the workplace.” There’s no time like the present to review your district’s hazard communication/right to know program, which includes:

  • Safety data sheets
  • Labeling systems
  • Training protocols
  • A list of hazardous chemicals known to be present
  • The methods you’ll use to inform employees of the hazards

7. Review and update medical procedures by focusing on medical conditions that require attention, such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Make sure that protocols for medication administration, emergency response plans, and communication with healthcare professionals and families are in place. Train staff members to recognize and respond to medical emergencies and provide ongoing support for students with medical conditions. Medical procedures to consider reviewing include opioid antagonists, diabetes, asthma, epinephrine, and vaping.

By reviewing and updating plans, policies, and procedures in these seven key areas, you’re laying the groundwork for a successful and safe academic year.

Related: 10 powerful practices for new principals

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