By Jim LeBuffe, EdD

It is good practice for school leaders to review dismissal procedures periodically with student safety in mind, including procedures used when teacher substitutes are employed. It is an important part of our jobs as school leaders to probe dismissal procedures periodically to be sure we are doing all that is possible to keep students safe as they head home.

As you think about dismissal procedures, remember the adage, “If it can go wrong, it will.” It is our job to anticipate, as much as possible, what can go wrong and then prove the adage wrong.

An Incomplete and Poorly Considered Dismissal Routine

The school in question relied on email to keep teachers current with last minute changes in dismissal routines but did not think through how communication could break down when a substitute was on duty. The procedures in place left subs in danger of being left out of vital, last minute information about dismissal. This poorly thought out routine increased the odds of a child getting on the wrong bus, missing a ride in a private vehicle, or walking home when he or she should not be doing so.

Here is what happened in our ill-prepared school: A first-grade teacher was home sick and a substitute was on duty in her class. A classroom mom called the school that morning, informing the clerk that her first-grade child would not ride the bus home that day but would be picked up by her grandmother, who was on the approved pick up list. Not realizing the teacher was home sick, the clerk emailed the transportation change; however, the regular classroom teacher was not checking her school email while ill. No one else was copied, so the substitute was unaware of this change in the usual routine.

At dismissal, the student got on her regular bus and rode home as her mom was sitting in a doctor’s office and her father was at work. Luckily, when grandmother arrived at school to pick up her granddaughter, she and a teacher on dismissal duty quickly figured out what had happened. Grandmother drove to her grandchild’s home, arriving there just as the first grader was being dropped off from her bus.

Possible Solutions

There are many possible solutions to this problem. One would be that all messages about dismissal changes happening that day must be delivered in person to all affected teachers’ classrooms. Another solution would be to copy any emails about student dismissal changes to the entire grade level team of teachers, who, as a team, handle dismissal for the grade level. And there are certainly other dismissal procedures that could be implemented to avoid such mix-ups.

Are your dismissal procedures solid when teachers are sick, clerks are sick, bad weather is brewing, dismissal is pushed back, it is an early dismissal day, a student’s ride home does not show up, etc?

The point is: Do you periodically look at your student dismissal routines?

Ask Your Staff

  • “What could go wrong?”
  • “Have we thought this through?”
  • “Have we looked at this recently?”
  • “Has anything changed making it advisable to change procedures?”

These are the kind of questions skilled school leaders regularly pose to their staff.

About the Author

Dr. Jim LeBuffe has enjoyed teaching in the Educational Leadership Masters program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston for more than a decade. As a former teacher, principal, director, assistant superintendent and superintendent, his major areas of interest are administration and improving student writing.


Love, K. (2018, September). “A Safer Process, One Pickup at a Time.” School Planning and Management.

Young, S. (2016, January 27). “After School Safety 101.” PikMyKids Connection.

TEPSA Instructional Leader, July 2019, Vol 32, No 4

Copyright © 2019 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 5,900 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

© Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

Sign up to receive the latest news on Texas PK-8 school leadership.