Breaking Down the School Reunification Plan

Dec 7, 2019 by

What we all know is that schools should be learning environments and safe places for students. Sadly, too often children are at risk in their schools. They are endangered because of natural and man-made disasters and recently become of criminal activity such as gun violence. In recent years there has been a horrifying increase of school gun violence. School leaders need to manage these crises and a crucial part of this is to have a reunification plan. According to the CDC, the definition of reunification is: Reunification is the process of ensuring that children return to the care of their parent(s) and family as quickly as possible after an emergency.

It is important that a school has a reunification plan, and this is necessary to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of the children. School leaders need to ensure that children are reunified with their parents or guardians to ensure their personal safety and to minimize any distress. A reunification plan needs to be an integral part of every crisis management plan. It is important that leaders develop relationships with agencies such as the fire department and the community. This is because in an emergency they are going to be important stakeholders. Moreover, the school leader needs the support and commitment of their staff and colleagues. Teachers need to have toolkits such as the Zombie pandemic toolkit to familiarize themselves and their students with the process.

The Standard Reunification Method

The model for reunification is the Standard Reunification Method (SRM). This is a set of recommendations that allow school leaders to develop a plan that is suitable for their student body. There are some fundamental aspects of this problem. One is identifying a reunification site, this may be on-site or off-site depending on the emergency. A great deal of planning is essential for a good reunification plan and training. Many schools often enlist volunteers when it comes to the implementation of a reunification plan, to ensure that it operates smoothly. A key concept in the reunification planning process is ‘flow’ to ensure that the child can be efficiently and safely reunited with their guardian.

Key elements in a reunification plan:

  1. Parent check-in location
  2. Establish defined pedestrian flows, for safe and efficient movement
  3. Deliver the students to the staging post beyond sight of parents/guardians,
  4. Notify parents and direct them to check-in location, parents/guardians complete the reunification chart.
  5. Student retrieved from staging post and reunified with guardian/parent.

It is important that the principal with the school district plans for any contingencies and they include plans to deal with medical or any other emergency. Remember the aim is to provide parents, guardians and students with experiences during the emergency or after it. It may be recommended that a trauma specialist, victims’ advocate or a counselor is on site.

Record keeping is key component to the reunification plan. Parents and guardians need to be provided with check-in cards. These provide details as to their child and their own identity. These are provided to a member of the reunification team and this is to verify that the student is being returned to the right person. This form of record-keeping is essential for the process.

Something that is fundamental to the process is that teachers should stay with their students at all times until they are taken to their guardians or parents. This can really reduce anxiety in the reunification process. School leaders should only initiate the plan after receiving the all-clear from law enforcement or the first responders.

Reunification Team

The principal should establish a dedicated team so that the reunification process can run smoothly. It can be called the reunification team and it can be made up of people from different departments in the building. Social media is a great way to keep parents informed and each reunification team needs a social media manager or at least access to the schools social media site. The principal should have a core group of competent individuals to do the following:

Coordinator- this is someone who manages and monitors the reunification process

Greeters- these welcome the parents and liaise with them during the process.

Checkers- these check the check cards and id of the parents and the guardians

Re-unifiers – these bring the student to the parents/guardians

Student assembly accountant- make sure that everyone is accountable for their actions during the reunification process.

Types of Reunification

The principal should develop a flexible plan so that the school can deal with a variety of emergencies that may be encountered. Below are the two most common.

Lockout- parents, and others cannot enter. This may happen if some appearing to show criminal intent is seen near the school. In this scenario, only those children who return home alone need to go through the reunification process.

Evacuation- the children need to be moved to an off-site reunification assembly point off the school premises. This may be because of a chemical spill or fire. All students must go through the SRM.

Helpful Tips for school leaders

There needs to be regular drills so that the process is efficient.

Must learn from past mistakes or inefficiencies.

What is not working during the drills? What needs to be improved?

Use technologies such as the NaviGate to facilitate reunifications.

Communication is an essential component at all stages of the plan. Meaning that the school principal should be proactive so as to have good reunification. If the school uses this plan for any reason, then they can evaluate it and see how it can be improved in the future.

Keywords: Student reunification, Student reunification plan, The Standard Unification Method

Comment: How important is training for the success of the reunification plans in a school?

References

CDC (2014) Reunification, Centre for Disease Control. CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/reunification.html

Graham, J., Liggin, R., Shirm, S., Nation, B., & Dick, R. (2005). Planning for a mass casualty incident in Arkansas schools. Journal of school health, 75(8), 327-329. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16179084

NASP (2017) Reunification. Brief facts and tips. NASP. Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/systems-level-prevention/reunification

Rassi Amanda (2017) A Comprehensive Reunification Guide for School Administrators. Upshot. Retrieved from https://upshotstories.com/stories/a-comprehensive-reunification-guide-for-school-administrators

SRM (2016) Standard Reunification Method. I love you guy’s foundation. Retrieved from https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm&ogbl#search/wendyholenfield%40gmail.com?projector=1

WRHSAC (2017) Family Reunification Template. Retrieved from https://wrhsac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Family-Reunification-Plan-Template_FINAL_8-31-17_incl.-appendices-pages-all-portrait.pdf

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