School Safety: An Update on New PASS K-12 Safety and Security Guidelines

Author: Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) has recently made a series of timely updates to their K–12 safety and security guidelines. These modifications underline the urgency for well-executed security measures in districts and schools and shed light on the importance of strategic planning in addressing various risks and threats. As superintendents, facilities managers, and school leaders, comprehending and implementing these revised guidelines are paramount to safeguarding our students, staff, and overall school community.

School safety is more critical now than it has ever been. With multiple incidents in recent years shaking our perception of educational institutions as safe havens, conversations surrounding school security have been brought to the forefront. As we usher in a new academic year, the need to reassess and strengthen the safety measures within our districts and schools has never been more urgent. Traditional classrooms are not just spaces for academic pursuits; they have become places where we must constantly ensure the well-being of our most precious resources, our children.

What can you do to make sure you are up to date with your school safety and security measures?

Below are the key updates to the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools guidelines that were issued in 2023.

Layered Security: A Shift in Perspective

The revised guidelines emphasize a layered security approach, with each layer serving as an independent line of defense to deter, delay, and detect threats. This perspective on security involves a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach that begins at the school’s perimeter and extends to the classrooms. It is an adaptive and flexible model, allowing schools to customize their security plans based on their unique needs and circumstances.

Each layer provides components that can detect or delay harmful behaviors and act independently in case other layers have been breached. These layers include:

  • Policies and Procedures

  • Staff

  • Communication

  • Architectural

  • Access Control

  • Video Surveillance

  • Detection and Alarms

  • Transportation

  • Cybersecurity

  • Network Infrastructure

  • Visitor Management

Risk Assessments: A Dynamic Process

One of the significant updates in the guidelines includes risk assessments. Previously considered a one-time event, risk assessments are now seen as a dynamic, ongoing process. The updated guidelines stress the need for regular quantitative and qualitative risk assessments that consider changes in the school’s environment or societal trends, such as advances in technology or shifts in local crime rates.

For example, by using statistical data, a district or school may evaluate the probability of cyber threats due to advancements in technology. This method uses precise numbers, such as an increased 20% risk of phishing attacks, requiring regular updates in cybersecurity measures.

Also, analyzing shifts in local crime rates to identify potential safety threats may reveal a rise in vandalism incidents in nearby schools, necessitating increased physical security measures like surveillance systems or stronger fences.

This shift in understanding ensures that school security measures remain relevant and effective.

Staff Training and Preparedness

Recognizing that a school’s staff is its first line of defense, the updated guidelines place a premium on training and preparedness. School personnel should be well-versed in emergency protocols and drills, and training should extend beyond teachers to include all school staff members, from administrators to custodial workers.

In the context of Emergency Response Training, all staff members must be educated in appropriate procedures for emergencies like fires or lockdowns. This includes understanding evacuation routes and shelter-in-place methods to ensure rapid and organized responses to crises.

Alongside this, Threat Awareness Training is also pivotal. This form of training provides staff with the knowledge to identify potential security threats, which can range from recognizing suspicious behaviors in students to understanding signs of cyber threats or noticing unusual activities around the school premises.

This comprehensive training approach empowers every staff member to actively contribute to and focus on fostering a culture of safety, wherein each staff member is cognizant of the role they play in their school’s security.

Integration of Technology

The revised guidelines also highlight the role of modern technology in enhancing school safety. Systems such as surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management systems, and mass notification systems should be part of a school’s security strategy. However, the guidelines caution against reliance on technology alone, emphasizing the importance of human factors and stressing that technological tools should supplement, not replace human vigilance and intervention.

For instance, a school might integrate a visitor management system that digitally tracks and screens visitors, enhancing security while reducing the reliance on manual logbooks. Another example is the implementation of mass notification systems that can swiftly alert the entire school community during emergencies, significantly improving response times. But as mentioned above, these technologies should complement human vigilance and intervention and never serve as standalone safety solutions.

Community Engagement

Lastly, the updated guidelines also underscore the importance of community engagement in school safety. Schools are encouraged to foster partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, social service providers, and other stakeholders to improve the school’s safety and security. Parents and students should also be involved in school safety efforts, reinforcing the concept that school safety is a shared responsibility.

As a part of community involvement, schools may want to work together with local law enforcement agencies to conduct safety workshops to provide students and parents with insights into crime prevention. At the same time, partnerships with social service providers could lead to the establishment of a student mentoring program to promote a safer, more inclusive environment.

Involving different community stakeholders in such initiatives amplifies the message that school safety is indeed a shared responsibility.


As school leaders, the safety of our students and staff is paramount. The recent updates to the PASS K-12 safety and security guidelines provide a detailed roadmap for the strategic planning and execution of school safety measures. Understanding and implementing these revised guidelines is a critical step towards improving the security and well-being of our school communities and keeping our children safe.

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This article was based, in part, on information provided by the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) The PASS School Safety and Security Guidelines are the most comprehensive information available on best practices specifically for securing K-12 school facilities, including elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The PASS School Security Checklist allows you to assess the current state of safety and security efforts in your school or district compared to nationwide best practices. The current sixth version of the PASS Guidelines was released in March 2023.

Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan is an author and certified autism resource specialist with a background in teaching. Originally from the Netherlands, her work has taken her around the world, where she helped set up classrooms and children’s libraries in under-resourced areas in Asia and the Middle East.In 2006, she moved to the United States to care for her infant grandson, Logan, who was later diagnosed with autism. This personal experience deepened her commitment to autism advocacy and education. Currently, Ymkje lives in California with her 17-year-old grandson and uses her expertise to lead autism training workshops. She works with early childhood educators, teachers, parents, and caregivers, offering practical guidance on supporting individuals with autism.