School Violence

How Prevalent is it?

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As teachers, parents and students prepare and begin this new school year, hopefully fears of school violence such as the Columbine shootings will not be their major concern. What is sad is that school violence needs to be a concern at all. The fact is, violence of one sort or another is part of many schools today. Fortunately, this usually involves a small group of people fighting amongst themselves. In a recently completed study of the Class of 2000, CBS News found that 96% of students said they felt safe in school. However, 22% of those same students said that they knew students who regularly carried weapons to school. This does not mean that students did not fear a school violence incident like Columbine. 53% said that a school shooting could happen in their own school. How good are the students perceptions? How widespread is school violence? Are we safe in our schools? What can we do to ensure safety for everyone? These are the questions this article addresses.

How Prevalent is School Violence?

Since the 1992-3 school year, 270 violent deaths have occurred at schools across the nation according to The National School Safety Center's Report on School Associated Violent Deaths. The majority of these deaths, 207, were shooting victims. However, the number of deaths in the 1999-2000 school year was almost one quarter the number that occurred in 1992-3. Though those numbers seem encouraging, most people would agree that any statistical data of this nature is unacceptable. Further, most school violence does not result in death.

The following information comes from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics(NCES). This organization 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 1996-7 school year. What were their findings?

  • 57% of public elementary and secondary school principals stated that one or more incidents of crime or violence were reported to the police
  • 10% 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 the middle and high schools
  • A larger percentage of violent crimes occurred in city schools and in large schools (over 1000 students) - for more information on the benefits of smaller schools click here.

Remember when reading these statistics that 43% of public schools reported no crimes and 90% had no serious violent crimes. Taking that into consideration, however, we have to admit that violence and crime does exist, and is not necessarily rare, in the school setting.

When teachers, students, and law enforcement officials were asked about their feelings about school violence in the Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher: 1999, they revealed that their overall perceptions were that violence was decreasing. However, when asked about their personal experiences, one-quarter of the students reported having been a victim of a violent crime in or around the school. More scary yet, one in eight students had at some time carried a weapon to school. Both of these statistics were an increase from the previous survey conducted in 1993. We must fight against this complacency without overreacting. We must fight to make our schools safe. But what can we do?

Combating School Violence

Whose problem is school violence? The answer is all of ours. Just as it is a problem we all must deal with, it is also a problem we all must work to solve. The community, the administrators, the teachers, the parents, and the students must come together and make schools safe. Otherwise, prevention and punishment will not be effective.

What are schools doing right now? According to the above-mentioned NCES survey, 84% of public schools have a 'low security' system in place. This means that they have no guards or metal detectors, but they do control access to school buildings. 11% have '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. Only 2% have 'stringent security' which means they have a full-time guard, use metal detectors, and control who has access to the campus. That leaves 3% with 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? As stated before, Columbine was not considered a 'high-risk' school. So one step that might be taken by the schools is to increase their security levels. One thing that many schools are doing, including my school, is issuing name badges.

These must be worn at all times. Although this won't stop students from causing violence, it could stop outsiders from easily appearing on campus. They stick out by their lack of a name badge. Further, teachers and administrators have an easier time identifying students who are causing disruptions.

Schools can also institute violence prevention programs and zero tolerance policies. Want more information on these programs? Check out the following:

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 games
  • 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?

  • 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
  • Bring concerns to guidance counselors and administration
  • Be consistent in enforcing classroom and school policies
  • Make your room a prejudice-free classroom - set the policy from the first day and enforce it
  • Teach anger management skills as the need arises - be a good role model for the students yourself
  • Create a plan of how to handle emergency situations with your students
  • Learn more with Top 10 Ways Teachers Can Prevent School Violence

What Can Students Do?

  • 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

In Summary

Worries about school violence should not hamper the job we educators must perform. However, we need to remain aware of the possibility that violence could erupt anywhere. We must strive to work together to create a safe environment for ourselves and our students.