Research Hub > How To Implement a Holistic School Safety Strategy To Secure K-12 Environments
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How To Implement a Holistic School Safety Strategy To Secure K-12 Environments

Due to devastating incidents of school violence, schools must create a comprehensive plan that addresses all areas of school safety including physical security, cybersecurity, social and emotional learning, and prevention.

Imagine students going to school without worrying about the threat of violence. That shouldn’t be something you dream about. It should be a reality because safety is a foundational requirement — like breathing air. School safety is crucial in our society. Without it, learning is significantly more difficult, and the well-being of students, parents and teachers suffers.

The Dire Need for School Safety

The statistics are somber reminders of the urgency surrounding school safety. According to eSchool News, The Washington Post reported that 26 percent of teachers are "afraid for their physical safety," and 20 percent of parents say their children "expressed worry about feeling unsafe when they return to school."

One of the reasons for these distressing sentiments is the increase in active shooter incidents in the U.S., with 69 shootings reported so far in 2024, up from 18 in all of 2008. Furthermore, the state of mental health among students is worsening. School leaders must grapple with the complexity of the mental health challenges students face and keep their schools operating, knowing they’re vulnerable to a wide array of risks.

There is a glimmer of hope throughout the chaos and uncertainty. School leaders can break down their approach to school safety into four pillars — physical safety, cybersecurity, social and emotional learning, and prevention. By implementing this holistic strategy, administrators can be proactive, mitigating the risks of physical and cyber threats and ensuring the safety and security of K-12 schools.

The Four Pillars of School Security

1. Physical Safety
According to the 2022 State of School Safety Report from Safe and Sound Schools, all K-12 leaders reported that one of the most significant school safety concerns is an active shooter/attack. More schools are investing in technology to help them respond quickly to physical threats — from attacks to environmental harm. Vape/THC detection, security cameras, environment sensors, access control and mapping mechanisms form the backbone of a comprehensive physical security program. These measures do more than monitor; they serve as a deterrent against harm.

2. Cybersecurity

Long gone are the days of simply protecting students from a bully on the playground. In addition to physical threats, school administrators and leaders are also battling a tidal wave of cyberthreats. Cybersecurity is the number one concern for K-12 educational technology leaders since 2018, according to the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).

These cyberthreats encompass various forms, ranging from cyberbullying incidents to malicious individuals infiltrating school systems with the intent of accessing private information. Unfortunately, many leaders find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the escalating number of cybersecurity attacks. Moreover, the complexity and cost associated with implementing cybersecurity standards and obtaining support only adds to the predicament.

However, collaborating with a trusted IT partner can offer valuable guidance on implementing best practices to fortify your school's cyber defenses. They can also conduct cybersecurity assessments to identify the areas within your system that are most vulnerable to attacks. Exploring technology solutions and services that actively involve monitoring the network can significantly aid in mitigating cyberattacks. In addition, an IT partner can assist you in aligning your security requirements with your budget, making it more feasible to secure your school effectively.

3. Social and Emotional Learning

Students grapple with a myriad of stressors that affect their mental health. Social and emotional well-being is not achieved through one-off programs but as a core part of the curriculum. Students need a foundation in social and emotional learning (SEL) as much as they need mathematics or literature.

SEL programs that focus on early intervention, promote resilience and teach behavior regulation can become help students navigate the complexities of the human experience for the rest of their lives. These programs instill the coping mechanisms that are as vital to a child's development as any academic knowledge.

4. Prevention
Prevention is the continuous action of staying ahead of threats, not by reaction but through preparation and vigilance. Protecting K-12 schools involves implementing a range of preventive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of students, staff and visitors. It includes threat assessments, crisis intervention training and building robust alliances with law enforcement, mental health professionals and community services.

Next Steps in Your School Safety’s Journey

K-12 leaders must approach school safety using a holistic view by evaluating their actions against these four pillars: physical safety, cybersecurity, social and emotional learning, and prevention.

CDW Education has modern security solutions designed to meet your specific needs and budget, so you can protect your school community and property. By leveraging our industry-leading partners, we can serve as a one-stop shop, providing managed services and support for your school to help with the assessment, installment and management of physical security systems.

Our team of dedicated strategists and solution architects can help you develop a comprehensive strategy to help keep your students as safe as possible. We will help you create a proactive culture that empowers educational leaders to prevent physical and cyberattacks.


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Cari Warnock

Education Ambassador
Cari Warnock, an education ambassador at CDW, has more than 20 years of public education experience. She forges alliances with various education organizations, striving to create equitable opportunities for all students. Previously, she worked as an education strategist for Dell Technologies and led Girls Who Game with Microsoft and Intel.

Bryan Krause

CDW Expert
Bryan Krause is a K-12 education strategist for CDW Education. He has held roles such as area assistant superintendent, executive director of student services, director of security and emergency management, and CTE director. Krause was principal of a school that suffered a school shooting and has shared his experience with multiple school districts and organizations nationally for over 17 years.