School Safety and Security: A Concern for Parents (page 3)
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.
Roles for Parents and Caregivers
Parent and caregiver involvement is crucial when it comes to creating safer schools. People just like you have worked with school principals and staff to stop vandalism in its tracks, curb theft, introduce conflict resolution programs, redesign building spaces to discourage illicit activity, and secure funding for security upgrades. You probably have more access to information and resources than you realize—through your day-to-day interactions with your child and his or her friends, other parents, teachers, school principals, coaches, and other community members.
Today, nearly every middle and high school student (and even some elementary students) can report one or more incidents of crime or bullying. A survey on youth concerns about bullying, conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for NCPC in 2002, revealed that six out of ten students witness “bullying or taunting” on a daily basis. And although recent studies show that as many as 75 percent of children have been victims of bullying, only 20 percent of parents surveyed in 2000 saw bullying as a serious or very serious problem for their children.11 Bullying is a big issue for students, and it should become a bigger issue for parents. Acting right away on small problems can prevent big ones later. This kit will give you the steps and tools you need to work with school principals to make your child’s school safer and more secure on a number of levels.
About the Be Safe and Sound Campaign
The Be Safe and Sound campaign is a public education and awareness campaign to involve parents in the issue of school safety and security. Be Safe and Sound was launched in 2002 and is an initiative of NCPC conducted in collaboration with National PTA and NCPC partners, The Allstate Foundation, ASSA ABLOY Group, Nextel Communications, and Security Industry Association.
Be Safe and Sound encourages parents to partner with school principals to organize school safety and security committees or action teams. These action teams, which comprise parents, school principals, teachers, students, local law enforcement, and other key players, will
- assess local school safety and security needs.
- identify and engage community leaders and other concerned citizens who can help set safety and security priorities.
- create action plans mapping out goals and objectives for addressing specific safety and security problems.
- promote and advocate for school safety and security in the community.
- enact positive change in and around the school environment.
- evaluate the effectiveness of school safety and security improvements.
The Campaign in Action
NCPC started the Be Safe and Sound campaign with pilot programs in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. In both locations, parents are working in partnership with the school principal and other community leaders to make their children’s schools safer.
Woodford County High School Versailles, KY Supported by the Kentucky Center for School Safety (www.kysafeschools.org)
Woodford County High School is a rural school with 1,113 students in grades nine through twelve. In April 2003, comprehensive safety and security assessments were completed at the school, including an environmental assessment conducted by two police officers from Florence, KY. Using the resulting findings as a point of discussion, parents and the school principal held a brainstorming forum with participation from school staff, local law enforcement officials, other parents, school custodians, and students. Recommendations from the forum were then used to form a safety and security action plan. The primary goal of the action plan is to create systems changes around school policies and programs. The school is now making security improvements such as a digital camera system, new door locks, and student and staff ID badges. In August 2003, to facilitate an improved social climate at the school, faculty and administrators received professional development in building positive relationships with students.
Edwin M. Stanton Elementary School Philadelphia, PA Supported by the Pennsylvania Center for Safe Schools (www.safeschools.info/)
The Stanton School is an urban school with 335 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The school’s safety and security action team conducted several kinds of safety and security research in January and February 2003. These included surveys of students, faculty, and parents to find out how each group perceived the school’s current level of safety and security. The school principal then worked with parents and other community leaders to evaluate the survey data and form a safety and security action plan. The action plan identifies several major priorities: (1) to secure the building against potential intruders; (2) to provide a safe corridor to and from school; and (3) to launch a schoolwide anti-bullying campaign.
The school is now adopting several strategies to improve safety and security, including a new doorbell and video camera surveillance equipment, a school safety and security resource center, and materials to help teachers recognize signs of sexual abuse in students. One parent and four teachers attended a state-level training workshop in June 2003 on classroom discipline. The school also plans to bring in outside experts to conduct workshops on bullying prevention for school personnel, parents, and other interested parties.
For More on School Safety and Security, see here for a detailed toolkit.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Crime Prevention Council. © 2008 National Crime Prevention Council. All rights reserved.
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