School Safety and Security: A Concern for Parents
Your child’s school hasn’t had a crisis that warrants national news coverage, but you’ve become increasingly aware of disturbing incidents that aren’t as harmless as they once seemed. Perhaps you’ve seen graffiti on the bleachers or a broken classroom window. Maybe you’ve heard that a teacher’s car was stolen from the parking lot of a nearby school or that evidence of drug dealing was found at the playground. Even if you haven’t noticed anything unusual, it’s never too early to start thinking about school safety and security. Preventive action can keep minor problems from turning into serious ones.
Schools are among the safest places for our children to be, with more victimizations occurring away from school than at school. And yet, in 2001, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of about two million crimes at school, including about 161,000 serious violent crimes. That same year, about 29 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported that someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property.1 While overall school crime rates have declined in the past few years, violence, gangs, and drugs are still present. It’s even more likely that students will experience bullying, teasing, or personal property damage and theft during and on the way to and from school. These seemingly minor incidents can often escalate into crisis situations. Some notable statistics:
- Most school crime is theft, not serious violent crime. In 2001 there were 42 thefts for every 1,000 students (ages 12 to 18) at school. Thefts accounted for about 62 percent of all crime against students at school that year.2
- Middle school students (ages 12 to 14) are more likely than older students to be victims of crime at school.3
- During the 1999–2000 school year, 4.1 percent of public schools took serious disciplinary action against at least one student for bringing a firearm or explosive device to school, and 1.6 percent for using such a weapon at school.4
- An estimated 6,451 schools reported at least one violent attack or fight with a weapon to law enforcement personnel during the 1997–98 school year.5
- In 2001, 36 percent of students saw haterelated graffiti at school, and 12 percent reported that someone had used hate-related words against them.6
- Students are not the only ones affected by school crime. From 1997 to 2001, teachers were the victims of some 1.29 million nonfatal crimes at school, including more than a million thefts and 473,000 violent crimes such as rape, robbery, and assault.7
- Secondary schools are not the only schools at risk. In a 2003 survey of school resource officers, 70 percent of the respondents reported an increase in aggressive behavior in elementary school children in their districts over the past five years.8
Crime statistics don’t tell the whole story. It’s important to note that the perception of crime can be as debilitating as crime itself. In 2001, 6 percent of students reported fears that they were going to be attacked or harmed at school; almost 5 percent said that they avoided one or more specific areas at school for their own safety.9 Even when actual crime rates aren’t as bad as they seem, the fear of becoming a victim is real.
In a 1996–97 study by the U.S. Department of Education, 84 percent of public schools were considered to have a low degree of security.10 Fortunately, this is changing. Educators have come to realize that the foundation of all learning is safety and security. Attendance and academic performance are closely linked to how safe students perceive the school environment to be. It’s hard for young people to concentrate on learning when they feel vulnerable, and a climate of fear forces teachers to shift their focus from teaching to policing. Safety and security concerns are fast becoming an important part of any dialog about improving schoolwide academic performance.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Crime Prevention Council. © 2008 National Crime Prevention Council. All rights reserved.
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