Violence In Schools Essay

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Two teenagers armed with guns and bombs walked into Columbine High School in April 1999. Thirteen were killed before the two turned their guns on themselves. The media took charge of the images and sound bites. Dozens of school shooting incidents have taken place in the near-decade that followed. These included shootings at both the K–12 level and the university level, the most noteworthy being the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007, in which thirty-three people were killed or wounded. As a result, beginning with Columbine, but by no means only as a result of that rampage, reduced tolerance of misbehavior and greater external control of students, particularly at the K–12 level, has become the normal course in schools across the United States. Metal detectors, uniforms, gates, bars, locks, video surveillance, armed security, and police presence have become part of the setting in our schools.

Although school violence is a problem that requires vigilance, schools continue to be one of the most secure places for children. Extreme forms of violence are rare. Both “hard” responses—such as metal detectors, added security personnel, and zero tolerance for weapons possession—as well as “soft” solutions—such as more counseling, conflict resolution programs, and better communications between school and home—have been implemented to improve school safety. Simultaneously, some reports suggest that schools are not safe. Some educators believe that by relying on self-reported data from school divisions, the government statistics underestimate the violence found in schools. This entry discusses the safety of schools in America.

School Policies

Secondary school administrators have addressed public concern by implementing violence prevention programs that instruct students in social-cognitive skills such as anger management; installing zero tolerance policies that expel or suspend students for being involved in fights or for carrying a weapon to school; and heightening school security. Additionally, administrators have worked to keep students safe while simultaneously preserving the democratic freedoms of both teachers and students.

However, consistent school safety policies are not found across the United States. Although 97 percent of schools require visitors to sign in, only 67 percent control access to the school building, and 34 percent control access to the school grounds. Only 1 percent of U.S. schools use metal detectors, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report in 2004. That investigation found that activities designed to increase school safety include counseling services, behavioral intervention, community programs, hotlines, teacher professional development, random dog checks, security cameras, use of clear or mesh book bags, and drug testing. In an effort to make their schools safer, many districts have taken great strides. Some researchers find that school crime overall has decreased significantly during the past decade, and schools are generally more prepared than ever to deal with school safety threats.

What Is A Safe School?

Some believe that a safe school is one in which the total school environment allows students, teachers, administrators, staff, and visitors to interact in a positive, nonthreatening manner that reflects the educational mission of the school while fostering positive relationships and personal growth. Significant effects on the school climate and the ways in which students resolve problems are attributed to the decisions of individual teachers about classroom management theories or their choices of management practices and strategies. In a school free from violence, fear, and intimidation, acceptance and caring are promoted. Expectations for student behavior in this type of environment are clearly stated, consistently enforced, and justly applied.

More than just physical safety, school safety also implies intellectual and emotional safety. With intellectual safety, students know that they can say, “I don’t understand,” and no one will laugh at them. They also realize they can think, doubt, and question what they are learning, and even make mistakes in a secure environment. A safety net is provided by classroom rules and procedures wherein individuals are free to express their concerns and ideas.

Emotional safety is also important. Some researchers have found that violent events such as those at Columbine were preceded by incidents when the eventually violent students were teased, bullied, or ostracized by others or when they were isolated from other students.

Are America’s Schools Safe?

In its 2004 report, the National Center for Education Statistics isolated a number of indicators for school crime and safety. The first, titled “Violent Deaths at School and Away from School,” suggests that the violence mentioned above occurs more often away from school than it does in school. School years from July 1, 1992, to June 30, 2000, were examined. It was found that youth ages fifteen to nineteen were at least seventy times more likely to be murdered away from school than at school. In this indicator, a school associated violent death is a homicide, suicide, legal intervention (involving a law enforcement officer), or unintentional firearm-related death in which the fatal injury occurred on the campus of a functioning elementary or secondary school in the United States.

Readiness and ability to learn can be affected in students who experience some form of school violence. Researchers share their concerns about the fact that vulnerability to attacks also has a detrimental effect on the school environment. Needless to say, teaching and learning are made difficult by the presence of weapons at school. Bullying contributes to an environment of fear and intimidation in schools. Learning environments are also affected by numerous physical fights.

In 2004, NCES reported that students in Grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere declined from 22 to 17 percent. Those students reporting that they had carried a weapon to school declined from 12 to 6 percent. These statistics were obtained for the years 1993 to 2003. In 2003, 17 percent of students in Grades 9–12 reported that they had carried a weapon anywhere, and approximately 6 percent reported that they had carried a weapon on school property.

Simultaneously, NCES advises that in 2003, 7 percent of students ages twelve to eighteen reported that they had been bullied at school during the past six months prior to the investigation; the percentage of students who reported being bullied increased between 1999 and 2001. However, no difference was detected between 2001 and 2003.

Interestingly, the percentage of students in Grades 9–12 who reported taking part in a physical fight on school property declined from 16 percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 2003. In 2003, 33 percent of students in Grades 9–12 reported being in a fight anywhere, and 13 percent said that they had been in a fight on school property.

To fulfill their potential in classrooms, youth should be safe and secure in schools. In 2005, the National Education Association Report on School Safety submitted data demonstrating that schools were among the safest places in American society for children. The percentage of students victimized provides an important measure of how safe our schools are and how this has changed over time. Indicator 2 of the NCES report, Incidence of Victimization at School and Away From School, states that between 1992 and 2002, the victimization rate for students ages twelve to eighteen generally declined for thefts, violent crimes, and serious violent crimes at school and away from school. However, this same age group of students was more likely to be the victim of theft at school than away from school in most years between 1992 and 2002.

Because it has received increased attention from policy makers because of its impact on students’ learning, school safety is of concern to many. Some researchers argue that schools with lower levels of school violence provide better learning environments for students. These same researchers have concluded that maintaining a safe learning environment, measured by indicators of school disciplinary infractions, has a statistically significant effect on students’ grade achievement.

The media’s linking of school shootings as a “trend” has tended to exacerbate the public’s fears about the safety of children and youth in schools. Educators, parents, and students are concerned about what they perceive as increased levels of violent incidences within schools and the ensuing repercussions upon student performance. Some researchers argue that children living with danger often develop defenses against their fears. These fears interfere with their development because the energy spent on these defenses is not available for learning.

Although school building safety with reference to health issues is of concern, safety with reference to occurrences of violent incidents in or near schools is of deeper concern. It has been noted that a discrepancy between public perceptions and documented occurrences of school violence may be accounted for by the fact that the media have increased coverage of school violence by 240 percent during the period 1990 to 2000. Subsequently, Americans believe that youngsters are responsible for 43 percent of homicides, when they actually perpetrate only 9 percent of such crimes.


  1. Astor, R. A., Benbenishty, R., & Meyer, H. A. (2004). Monitoring and mapping student victimization in schools. Theory Into Practice, 43(1), 39–49.
  2. Elliott, D. S., Hamburg, B. A., & Williams, K. R. (1998). Violence in American schools: An overview. In Violence in American schools: A new perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Merrow, J. (2004). Safety and excellence: Safety in the schools. Educational Horizons, 83(1), 19–32.
  4. National Center for Education Statistics. (2004). Crime and safety in America’s public schools: Selected findings from the school survey on crime and safety. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
  5. Noonan, J. (2004). School climate and the safe school: Seven contributing factors. Educational Horizons, 83(1), 61–65.
  6. Paulson, A. (2004, August 20). Why school violence is declining. Christian Science Monitor.

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