How Widespread Is School Violence?

A school bus cordoned off with crime scene tape

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As teachers, parents, and students prepare for school each day, we hope that fears of school violence is not their major concern. Sadly, violence of one sort or another is part of many schools today. In a study of the class of 2000, CBS News found that, while 96 percent of students felt safe in school, 53 percent said that a shooting was possible in their school. A total of 22 percent of students knew classmates who regularly carried weapons to campus. Are student perceptions accurate? How common is school violence? Are children safe at school? How can parents and teachers ensure safety for everyone?

Rates of School Violence

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there was an average of 47 violent deaths at schools from the 1992/1993 school year through 2015/2016. That's over a thousand deaths in under 25 years.

The following information comes from the NCES commissioned a survey of Principals in 1,234 regular public elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the 1996/1997 school year. The good news is that 43 percent of public schools reported no crime, and 90 percent reported no serious violent crimes. Still they found violence and crime to be far too common in the school setting.

  • 57 percent of public elementary and secondary school principals stated that one or more incidents of crime or violence were reported to the police.
  • 10 percent of all public schools had one or more serious violent crimes (murder, rape, sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery).
  • The most reported crime was physical attacks or fights without a weapon.
  • Most of the serious violent crimes occurred in middle and high schools.
  • A greater percentage of violent crimes occurred in city schools and in large schools with over 1000 students.

When asked about their personal experiences, a quarter of students surveyed in 1999's Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher reported having been a victim of a violent crime in or around the school. Scarier still, one in eight students had at some time carried a weapon to school. These statistics indicated increases from the previous 1993 survey. Even so, teachers, students, and law enforcement officials all revealed that their overall perceptions were that violence was decreasing. How do we address this complacency and make our schools safer in fact as well as in feeling?

Combating School Violence

School violence is everyone's problem to solve. The community, administrators, teachers, parents, and students must come together and make schools safe. What forms of prevention and punishment are schools relying on?

Some schools have a "low security" system in place, meaning that they have no guards or metal detectors, but they do control access to school buildings. Others rely on "moderate security," which means either employing a full-time guard with no metal detectors or controlled access to the buildings, or a part-time guard with controlled access to the buildings. Still others have "stringent security" which means they have a full-time guard, use metal detectors, and control who has access to the campus. Almost no schools have no security measures at all.

One correlation is that the schools with the highest security are the ones that have the highest instances of crime. But what about the other schools? Neither Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Stoneman-Douglas were considered "high risk" schools.

Schools across the country have instituted violence prevention programs and zero tolerance policies. One step schools take to increase security levels is issuing name badges which must be worn at all times. This may not stop students from causing violence, but it allows teachers and administrators have to more easily identify the students who cause disruptions. Furthermore, badges could prevent outsiders from invading a campus.

What Can Parents Do?

They can pay attention to subtle and overt changes in their children. Many times there are warning signs well in advance of violence. They can watch for these and report them to guidance counselors. Some examples include:

  • Sudden lack of interest
  • Obsessions with violent or hateful games or videos
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Writing that shows despair and isolation
  • Lack of anger management skills
  • Talking about death or bringing weapons to school
  • Violence towards animals

What Can Teachers Do?

Worries about school violence should not hamper the job educators must perform. Remain aware of the possibility that violence could erupt anywhere. Strive to work together to create a safe academic environment. Teachers are in a tough situation, because if they step in physically to address violence or fights, they may themselves be targeted by defensive or abusive students or parents. Still, teachers are often in the best position to prevent classroom violence.

  • Similar to parents, watch for the above warnings signs
  • Talk to parents about concerns they might have
  • Remember to keep the lines of communication open with students and parents
  • Bring concerns to guidance counselors and administration
  • Be consistent in enforcing classroom and school policies
  • Create a prejudice-free classroom policy from the first day, and enforce it
  • Teach anger management skills as the need arises
  • Model healthy behavior and responses
  • Create a plan to handle emergency situations with your students

What Can Students Do?

  • Look out for and take care of each other
  • Respect others and their feelings
  • Refuse to succumb to negative peer pressure, especially when violence is involved
  • Report any knowledge of weapons on campus
  • Tell your teachers about suspicious behaviors of other students
  • Walk away from confrontations

Resources and Further Reading