When discussing educational environment, it seems that what is successful within a classroom one year, will likely carry through to be successful in that classroom for the following year. Keeping this theory in mind, as well as recognizing the fact that many schools are in the midst of dealing with challenging budgets, teachers are sometimes faced with the difficult decision of what to save within the classroom from one year to the next, as well as how and where to store it.
Although basic in nature, these questions can be difficult to answer as the variables are fluid. A general rule of thumb is items that are not used at any point during a complete school year should never be retained for the next. Items which are hazardous should be stored away from students and secured accordingly. For classrooms in the lower grades, this includes chemicals, anything portable made of glass (like fishbowls), and sharp, flammable, or electrical objects. Items such as paper rolls should never be stored in open areas, as they present major fire hazards.
The leading cause of accidents in many schools are slips and falls. Classrooms can be a haven for tripping hazards—if you let it happen. Items with power cords should have the cords secured so they do not traverse a walkway. These items could lead to injury of students, teachers, or visitors. Small items that are not easily discernable to the eye may present spatial complications and increase the likelihood of an accident. Thus, all small items should be removed from the ground. Area rugs also present a fire hazard and should be stored when not being used during the school year.
Open communication should regularly take place between the principal and the teachers as to how to appropriately store items that are used “occasionally” during the school year. Materials which are not used on a daily or weekly basis in the classroom should be secured out of the teaching area. When locked closets or storage rooms are available, this would be the preferred method. It is also important to note that locked storage rooms should be able to be opened from the inside, in case small students become locked in.
Storage units in the classroom should be carefully selected and age-appropriate. High rack shelving should never be used in classrooms with small children, as they are prone to climbing. Many accidents have occurred while small students attempted to climb a shelving unit, only to have it fall over on them. All storage racks or shelving units should be bolted to the wall, regardless of student age. This increases stability and minimizes the likelihood of a tip-over.
Always verify that the materials you are storing are actually materials that you intend to use. Occasionally a teacher may hold on to an item for many years, only to realize at a later point that the item is no longer relevant for the student population they teach. While in storage, this item could have presented a fire or tripping hazard. A perfect example of this is old textbooks. Information referenced in old textbooks can become obsolete very quickly, and in many cases they are retained only for nostalgic purposes. Most information that is stored in an outdated textbook can be readily accessed on the internet, and negates any storage hazards otherwise associated.
Textbooks also present the potential for back injury to those who have to lift them, they are a fire hazard as they are combustible, and depending on how they are stored, they may be tripping hazards as well.
Classroom materials should never hinder access to emergency exits. At least 36 inches of clear access to exits should be maintained at all times. Storage of any materials in an exit route, even if there for “just a minute,” should not be done, and is in violation of the National Fire Protection Administration’s Life Safety Code. You never know when an emergency will occur, and the last thing you want to have to do is clear an exit route in case of an actual emergency or drill.
Many cities and villages have relevant fire codes that dictate the amounts of materials that can be stored in the classroom. Check with your fire marshal, as well as your Regional Office of Education to ensure you are in compliance with applicable codes.
Storing items in the classroom is an absolute necessity for almost all U.S. classrooms. However, storing materials appropriately, in the way of hazard avoidance, can present a challenge for some teachers. Please take time to check your classroom today and verify that the materials that are in the teaching area are items that are actually needed, appropriate for your students, and do not present a hazard to you, your students, or guests that may be in the building.
The information contained in this report was obtained from sources which to the best of the writer’s knowledge are authentic and reliable. Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc. makes no guarantee of results, and assumes no liability in connection with either the information herein contained, or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedures.