Addressing School Violence
As a school professional, you have a responsibility to be alert for students who are at high risk for committing acts of violence against themselves or others. Most of these students display early warning signs that should signal to you a need for help. As you review the warning signs listed here, which have been identified through research, keep in mind that your concern for a student should not lead you to jump to conclusions. Instead, if you have serious concerns about a student, you should ask for assistance from your colleagues, including school counselors, social workers, and administrators, and, with their support, you should work with parents and the student to address the issues at hand.
Early Warning Signs of Potential for Violence
- Social withdrawal. Some students gradually withdraw from social contact because of depression, rejection, or a lack of confidence.
- Excessive feelings of isolation. Although most students feel isolated occasionally, a sense of isolation sometimes is associated with aggression and violence.
- Excessive feelings of rejection. Some aggressive students who are rejected by peers seek out other aggressive students who in turn reinforce their aggressive tendencies.
- Victimization by others. Students who have been physically or sexually abused are at risk of becoming violent.
- Feelings of being picked on and persecuted. Students who believe they are teased, bullied, or humiliated at home or at school may vent their feelings through aggression or violence.
- Low school interest and poor academic performance. A drastic change in school performance or poor school achievement accompanied by frustration can be a warning sign for acting out.
- Expression of violence in writings and drawings. When violent themes are directed at specific individuals (for example, teachers, peers) over time, a student should be referred to a counselor or another professional for assistance.
- Uncontrolled anger. Getting angry is natural, but if a student is frequently and intensely angry in response to minor incidents, it may signal a potential for violence.
- Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, and bullying behavior. If behaviors such as these are not addressed, they can escalate to violence.
- History of discipline problems. Chronic behavior problems sometimes signal underlying emotional needs that are unmet.
- Past history of violent and aggressive behavior. Unless a student with a history of aggressive and violent acts receives counseling, the behaviors are likely to continue and even escalate.
- Intolerance for differences and prejudicial attitudes. Intense prejudice (regarding, for example, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) may lead to violence against individuals perceived to belong to the targeted group.
- Drug and alcohol use. The use of drugs and alcohol tends to reduce self-control, thus increasing the chance of being either a perpetrator or victim of violence.
- Affiliation with gangs. Students who are members of gangs that support antisocial values may act on group beliefs.
- Inappropriate access to, possession of, and use of firearms. Students who have a history of aggression, impulsiveness, or other serious emotional problems should not have access to firearms and other weapons.
- Serious threats of violence. One of the most reliable indicators that a student is likely to commit a violent act is a specific and detailed threat.
Source: Adapted from Early Warning, Time Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, by U.S. Department of Education, Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 1998, Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved August 10, 2007, from www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/gtss .html.
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