Identifying and managing risks in schools
RISK. When applied to schools, risk is a dirty, four lettered word. It’s not like taking a risk where there’s a big payoff or tremendous upside. Risk at a school is just that – risk. And ignoring or failing to prepare for or minimize that risk can end horribly, proving costly for the school.
It’s true that risks cannot be analyzed and controlled until they are first identified. That’s exactly why it’s imperative to detect risks. Schools must be proactive in identifying risks in order to manage and mitigate them. “Risk, Claims, and What Keeps You Up at Night”, an article in the March/April issue of Net Assets, reveals the findings of a recent NBOA/United Educators study. Results showed that of the business officers studied, “25 percent say they are reactive or don’t know what their response should be,” when faced with risks, or claims against the school. That’s 25 percent of over 1,200 business officers surveyed, and 14 separate in depth interviews. And that’s precisely why this study is so valuable to business officers and school representatives who are unsure of where they stand or how to react.
The article notes, “Business officers worry about their schools’ ability to identify and manage risk, but in most cases, they lack the support, training, and resources to do an effective job avoiding expensive insurance claims. And many don’t recognize or plan for key risks.” While claims include slip and fall, harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination suits, athletics were the largest category of claims, showing losses ranging from $200 to $4 million. Two hundred dollars is not likely to make a big impact on a school, but four million dollars likely will. Athletics includes everything from organized athletics to physical education, to recess and playground injuries. These are absolutely not all controlled environments where a finite number of outcomes can be anticipated with certainty; however, athletics is an obvious risk to any school. And while the brunt of identifying and addressing risks and claims may fall on a business officer, according to NBOA Executive Director, Jeffrey Shields, “…it is the responsibility of everyone at the school to help minimize this unnecessary risk.”
The good news is, now schools and business officers are being made aware of the risks, and dollar signs are being made known – if $4 million doesn’t speak to the need to prepare for risks, then it’s likely nothing will. Knowledge of the risks, and the effort to think through other possibilities, are the first steps. With risks identified, efforts from all parties can be put toward addressing the biggest problem areas. It could be as simple as educating staff and students to change behaviors to reduce risk. Or it may be more complicated. The thing is, you’ll never know until you face the challenge head on. And after doing that, it must be done again. According to the article, schools “must implement a risk identification and mitigation process that is evaluated annually.”
Schools must also think beyond the walls of this study. There are risks associated with nearly every area of a school, including the health center. If information gets into the wrong hands, or information isn’t accessible when it is needed, schools and students are at risk. To learn more about health center risks, join us for our upcoming webinar: The Risky Business of Health Records.