When bullying is reported (and, actually, anytime) the school can create a safety plan. The purpose of this plan must be to ensure the student it is written for is both safe and feels safe (although one principal insists it is only to make the target feel safe, which is like saying that the NATO alliance is written to make Turkey and Greece only feel safe as opposed to being safe).

The safety plan does not have to be signed by the parents, but should be designed in consultation with the parents, and at times must be.

First, two definitions from the Commonwealth:

“Home Base”: This is a location in the school selected by student and school staff where the student can go when not feeling safe. (“Safe” and “unsafe” feelings would need to be defined and taught.) This location should be a place where the student can be supervised and monitored by school staff. Some examples could include the School Adjustment Counselor’s office, the main office, the resource room, or the nurse’s office.

“Safe Person”: This is a designated person in the school who the student can talk to and process social situations that are troubling, confusing, or agitating, including bullying, that may not be readily understood by the student. This person should be familiar to the student and have a trusting relationship already established. This needs to be a person chosen with the student and parents who understands the student and can help him or her de-escalate a situation or calm down and resume the normal school day routine. This does not need to be a specialist or a teacher but can be a staff member who knows and understands this student and can help him or her interpret confusing situations. The Safe Person must be familiar with practices known to be helpful when working with students with disabilities that affect communication and social awareness.

Note that I have been involved with safety plans where the safe person was a custodian for instance. In that case it was a younger student with emotional issues and he happened to have bonded with the custodian. Hence, the custodian was brought in when the student was involved with an incident, not to make determinations, but to be there for support. More typical might be the school nurse, a guidance counselor, a favorite teacher or lunch aide. Also note, the safe person is not determined by the school.

The plan will typically define how the aggressor and the target will be kept apart. It will address what actions to take if the target feels unsafe. Often it will give the target permission to leave any situation (lunch, recess, etc.) and go to their safe “home base” or “safe person.” This means they can leave the cafeteria, for instance, when others may not. The plan will define who the safe person is (or are). It will typically state what transgressions or violations of the plan will be reported to the parents, how, and when. For instance, “Any time the student reports feeling unsafe, his/her parents will be notified by (phone/email) immediately.”

The plan may involve “check ins,” especially with younger students. Possibly a signal such as a “thumbs up” from the teacher after lunch to be responded to by the student with either a thumbs up (feeling safe) or a thumbs down (not feeling safe).

The plan must be shared with any adults who will be in contact with the student. All teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, lunch aides, recess monitors, etc. must know about the plan. The plan should stay in place whether or not a bully investigation finds in fact there was bullying. If the student does not feel safe, especially if, in fact, the student is not safe, the plan must stay.