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As kids head back to school, keep safety in mind


By Attorney General Roy Cooper

For students, parents, and schools across North Carolina, heading back to school is an exciting time. Starting a new school year off right is about more than just buying school supplies and adjusting to a new routine. Parents also want to make sure that schools are safe for their children.

Safe schools are essential for our students and teachers, and there are steps you can take to make sure your child’s school is prepared to handle a crisis. You can also take action to keep kids of all ages safer at home, in your community, and even online.

These tips can help parents make sure children are safe and ready to learn:

  • Ask your school about its safety plan.  The plan should include how the school would work with local law enforcement and other first responders in the event of an emergency, such as a school shooting or weather disaster. Ask if teachers have been trained and what you should do as a parent if a crisis occurs at school.

  • Ask how employees are screened. Make sure your child’s school, day care and after school activities screen their employees including background checks. Visit the facility and get to know staff and teachers who work with your child.

  • Carefully consider the school’s policy on student privacy. For example, does the school post photos of your child on the school website or allow photos to be taken by news organizations? If you don’t know the school’s policy, ask. You can opt out.

  • Update your emergency contact list. Give a copy to your child’s school and any afterschool programs. Make sure that everyone on the list has information like how to get to your child’s school, your pediatrician’s contact information, and alarm codes for your house.

  • Ask the school to notify you if your child doesn’t arrive at school or leaves early. Let the school know who is authorized to pick up your child and ask if IDs are required. Make sure your children know who would pick them up in case of an emergency or if you aren’t able to. 

  • Make sure young children know their full name, parent’s name, address and phone number. You can also consider getting your child an ID card from the NC Division of Motor Vehicles.

  • Protect your child’s information from strangers. Identity thieves use information like children’s Social Security Numbers to open lines of credit without parents’ knowledge. Only give identifying information when necessary, and when you do, ask how it will be used and protected.

  • Talk to your kids about alcohol, prescription drugs and street drugs. Tell your kids how these substances can affect them and discuss what to do if they feel pressured to use drugs or alcohol. For older kids, discuss how to get out of dangerous situations they may face, for example if their ride home drinks or takes drugs. Know the warning signs of addiction, like withdrawal from relationships, loss of interest in school and extracurricular activities, and unexplained mood changes.

  • Teach your kids about how to stay safe from strangers, even online. Set ground rules for Internet use and explain what is and isn’t appropriate to do or view online. Easy to use Internet safety tools are available free at

  • Be cautious about social media use. Consider the age and maturity of your children before deciding to let them use social networking sites, and talk to your children about the risks. If you do allow it, use supervision, read the site’s safety tips, and apply privacy settings. If younger children use in-school social networking, make sure they know what is appropriate or not appropriate to share online with classmates and teachers. 

  • Talk to your kids about mobile phone use. Let kids know that safety rules still apply if they use their phones to go online. Teens also need to know about the dangers of texting or talking on the phone while driving. According to the National Safety Council, drivers who use their cell phones are four times more likely to crash.

  • Talk to school staff about Internet safety and privacy, too. The Internet can be a great learning tool and many students have access to it at school. Ask your child’s school how they protect their students when they go online.

  • Encourage your children to talk to you about anything that makes them feel scared, threatened, or uncomfortable. Remind your kids not to condone or participate in bullying behavior. Teach your kids which trustworthy adults (like grandparents, teachers, school resource officers, trusted neighbors) they can also turn to when they need help. 

Thanks to all the students, families, teachers, schools, law enforcement and communities who are working together to ensure a safe and successful new school year across our state.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are here to serve North Carolinians when you need us, but through education efforts like these columns we hope to help you avoid problems from the start.

Note to editors:  This is one in a series of columns that the Attorney General is distributing to educate consumers.  If you have questions or would like to receive future columns via email instead of U.S. mail, please contact us at