Student behavior incidents are on the rise since students have returned to their school buildings on a full-time basis. Many students, particularly those in elementary school who are returning or attending in person for the first time after long COVID-related school closures, are not acclimated to the school schedule or teacher expectations.

Every school needs a school safety plan that addresses incidents of student elopement, classroom disruptions, and behavioral outbursts. A school safety plan should include a way to discreetly and quickly call for help when a student is discovered to be missing. Along with the social-emotional learning that schools are working so hard to provide, a concrete school safety plan that seeks to prevent elopement and summon quick action when a student goes missing is a necessity.

wearable emergency button

What Is Elopement?

Elopement is the term educators use when a student disappears during the school day. Otherwise known as “runaway students,” these students leave school property without permission. Student elopement usually occurs on the playground or when students are traveling from one point to another within the school or on the school grounds.

In Virginia Beach, a 7-year-old student slipped out of a gymnasium door and crossed a busy street. The boy, who is autistic and nonverbal, was gone for several minutes. A concerned citizen called the police, and the school staff picked him up and safely returned him to school. Understandably upset by the incident, his parents filed a special education complaint, arguing that their son’s right to a “free appropriate public education” was violated. The student’s individualized education plan detailed his need for adult assistance during transition times. The IEP also said he was supposed to have face-to-face instruction in P.E. 

With many students returning to in-person learning and some students experiencing it for the first time, schools are seeing instances of elopement on the rise. Teachers report that more students than ever before leave, or attempt to leave, the school property. This is a major problem for several reasons: when students go missing, schools can no longer monitor their safety. When teachers are obligated to shift their attention to a student “runner,” this poses a challenge to classroom management and learning gaps can eventually result from these kinds of disruptions.

Student elopement exists at all educational levels:

  • 79% of incidents occur at elementary schools.
  • 9% of incidents occur at middle schools.
  • 12% of incidents occur at high schools.

Elementary schoolers are especially prone to leave school grounds, particularly in a post-COVID school environment, because they are not acclimated to it. Some students had never experienced a normal school setting before this year; they may have found it difficult or impossible to adapt to a formal classroom setting. Many of these students were home with access to all of its comforts and routines, or accustomed to being in the company of caregivers throughout COVID-related school closures. Students who find school uncomfortable or challenging may leave or attempt to leave the school property.

Elopement Creates Challenges For Teachers, Students, and Staff

As teachers and school staff are aware, keeping track of students under normal circumstances is a challenge and requires systems of tracking and coordination among staff members. Particularly when teachers are leading large groups of students from one place to another in the school building or on school grounds, it can be difficult to keep track of every single student. If a behavioral or medical incident occurs, teachers immediately become responsible for not only managing a crisis but also for managing the rest of their students in a moment of intense stress. While a teacher waits for help to arrive, a student who is likely to elope may seize the opportunity to do so.

Students with special needs may be particularly vulnerable to elopement. In many schools, classrooms—and particularly special education programs—are understaffed. This shortage of trained specialists makes it difficult to monitor students with special needs who may need more focused supervision when traveling from one point to another on school property.

In October 2022, the parents of a Colorado first-grader on the autism spectrum filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education. The complaint cited the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Protection of Individuals from Restraint and Seclusion Act. During his first few weeks of school, the student demonstrated elopement behavior. According to witnesses, a teacher went to “uncomfortable” lengths to prevent the behavior, which led to the investigation. The investigation found that the teacher’s actions violated the district’s seclusion regulations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about half of young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been reported to wander. Of those, 25 percent were missing long enough to cause concern. Traffic and drowning were reported as primary concerns.

According to reports, more than 25 percent of parents of children with ASD reported that their child has eloped in the past year. In addition, more than 33 percent of children affected with ASD who wander are unable to effectively communicate information that would reunite them with their caregivers.

Wandering is not just a problem for students on the spectrum, and the potential consequences are real. The FBI’s National Crime Information Center reported 359,094 missing children in 2022. That was an increase from 337,195 in 2021.

Educators know that a student’s formative years in the educational environment are irreplaceable. Their early experiences pave the way for their successes and challenges at school for years to come. Current students are fighting an uphill battle in this regard. In 2022, third-graders experienced their first normal elementary school year. 

As NPR reports, kids are struggling with mental health issues that manifest in challenging behaviors. According to a 2022 poll, nearly three-quarters of parents said their child would benefit from mental health counseling. The number was 68 percent in 2021. Consequently, many of them have not yet developed the habits and routines that make them successful at school. This is why elopement is currently more common at lower grade levels and also why it is crucial to prevent elopement.

wearable emergency button

How Can Teachers and Staff Prevent Elopement?

Many schools are instituting new social-emotional learning curricula and programs to support students, especially those who are experiencing emotional distress. Students who feel anxious as a result of being away from home and out of their comfort zone learn about tools that can help them remain calm, seek help, and brainstorm ways to self-soothe. This social and emotional learning goes a long way to help children become acclimated to school and to prevent elopement.

But a school safety plan that implements measures to prevent elopement is also critical. Schools must institute protocols for when students move from classroom to classroom, to the playground, to the cafeteria, and to other locations on campus. Protocols should also be in place for monitoring students who are traveling from one point on campus to another when outside of the school building.

In addition, training must play a role. Teachers should be trained in how to be vigilant and observant. They should listen for cues that indicate a behavioral escalation and seek the intervention of a school counselor. Good training can encourage teachers to adopt habits that make schools safer both for themselves and for their students. New habits on the part of teachers, such as joining a line of students, rather than staying in front of it, can ensure that teachers can increase their awareness of students’ locations and states of mind.

What Role Does a Wearable Emergency Response Solution Play in a School Safety Plan?

A discreet way to call for help can also help prevent elopement and provide teacher support when an elopement occurs. Instead of obligating a teacher to abandon their students to seek help to find a student who has eloped, a CENTEGIX CrisisAlert badge allows teachers to quickly and discreetly summon assistance from other educators and administrators, who can offer assistance when it is discovered that a student has gone missing. The sense of security that this provides to teachers is substantial: one teacher whose school safety plan incorporates the CrisisAlert badge says, “It makes me feel safe and that the situation will be handled ASAP.”

Teachers with access to this tool are not left alone to confront every problem that arises in their classrooms or on campus. Rather, they have immediate access to support—and, importantly, the peace of mind that comes with it. When immediate help is available, students who attempt to elope are less likely to leave campus entirely, these students are less likely to be injured or traumatized, and teachers feel assured that they will not be left alone to solve the problem of elopement.

CENTEGIX is the leader in incident response solutions. Our CrisisAlert platform is the fastest and easiest way for staff to call for help in an emergency, from the everyday to the extreme. CENTEGIX creates safer spaces by innovating technology to empower and protect people, and leaders nationwide trust our safety solutions to provide peace of mind. To learn more about how CENTEGIX can help you support your teachers and staff, visit