School Safety for Students with Disabilities



When we think about school safety, we often think of annual safety drills or the procedures we put in place to keep our campuses safe from intruders and during disasters. And while many of our schools have general crisis plans in place to support student safety, very few plans address the complex needs of students with disabilities.


School emergency procedures often call for students to move quickly, assume specific and often uncomfortable positions, hide, or be silent. For some of our students with disabilities, these requests can be challenging, or in some cases - impossible. So, what can we do to ensure they're prepared for actual crises and emergencies?


To keep our students safe in the event of a disaster or emergency, we need to dig deeper and develop detailed plans that are specific to students' individualized needs, much like an Individualized Education Program (IEP).


Developing Emergency Preparedness Programs that Support Students with Disabilities

Develop a Team - The team should evaluate your school's safety plan and create a basic plan for all students with disabilities. It's a good idea to include key personnel who regularly support and know the students, such as teachers, paraeducators, occupational or physical therapists, etc.


Checklist - Consider developing an individual checklist that teachers and administrators could use to determine the supports needed for a student in an emergency. The checklist should consider both the general characteristics of the student, but also as questions, such as, “Can the student…”

  • Be part of a large crowd during an evacuation?
  • Process information when directions must be followed quickly?
  • Move through a classroom or hallway independently?
  • Process the visual or auditory output from alarm systems, sirens, or people shouting?
  • Maintain a lockdown position for an extended period of time without medication and/or medical devices?


Action Plan

  1. Analyze the overall state, district, and school crisis and disaster plans.
  2. Use the student's IEP, schedule, and school layout to evaluate what might happen in an emergency.
  3. Review the school layout and note any barriers to the student's access.
  4. Brainstorm solutions to barriers.
  5. Create an Individualized Emergency and Lockdown Plan (IELP).
  6. Help students learn, understand, and practice the specific skills they will need to develop to stay safe.

This information is from the Exceptional Child online PD course School Safety for Students with Disabilities, by Dr. Laura Clarke and Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury.

Want to Know More?

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