"Joseph was a gang member in Wichita, Kansas. He attended a violence prevention class that taught him to use his head-not a knife or gun-to resolve conflict. Later that day, rival gang members threatened him. Using the lesson he learned that day, he de-escalated the situation before it produced bloodshed. The next day, Joseph told his teacher that the lesson had saved his life."
Across the nation, concern about school safety has risen dramatically in the recent past. School safety has become the leading issue for parents, students, teachers, and school administrators according to numerous surveys, polls, and research articles(Landen, 1992; Sautter, 1995). School communities are being called upon to respond to and ameliorate the tense situations arising in their schools.
Conflict resolution classes like the one mentioned above are becoming a standard part of the curriculum in today's schools. According to recent media reports, the incidence of physical violence to both students and faculty has risen, and there is no indication that the situation is improving. In 1974, Congress mandated that the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare conduct a national survey to examine the prevalence of school crime and identify the perpetrators. The study, Violent School-Safe Schools: The Safe School Study Report to the Congress, found that 40% of the robberies and 36% of the assaults on teenagers took place in schools. The highest rates of victimization were found in junior high schools, the perpetrators of the crime being students. More than 100,000 teachers were threatened with physical harm, and each month an estimated 5,200 teachers were physically attacked. Teachers were five times as likely as students to be seriously injured. Vandalism was the most costly of crimes in the schools.
The National Crime Victimization Survey reported to Congress in January, 1984, that school crime remained fairly consistent from 1974-1984. The Center for Disease Control (1995) indicated that students felt unsafe in schools, and that minority students were more likely to report feeling unsafe in schools. The National League of Cities reported in 1994 an increase in the incidence and severity of youth crime. Parents, teachers, students, and administrators have watched in dismay as their schools metamorphose from the safe havens they once were into war zones. Even in elementary schools, there are increased reports of fighting, students bringing weapons to school, and defiant and antagonistic behavior.
In our report we will examine the following
How unsafe have the schools become?
What are the forces affecting the issue of school safety?
What are schools currently doing do address the issue?
What does the future hold for
School safety and discipline have always been a concern, but the increase in frequency and degree of school violence has brought this issue to the forefront in the past twenty years. During the 1970's, Congress began to look at the issue of school violence. Reforms such as conflict resolution, mediation, and state reform academies appeared during this time.
In 1984, the U.S. Department of Education released the report, Disorder in Our Public Schools, that highlighted the problem of school discipline with the following facts (Maginis, 1995):
In response to reports such as this, Congress passed the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act in 1986 to help schools combat the growing trend of violence. This act provides money to help put police officers in schools, install metal detectors, and support conflict resolution, drug awareness, and after-school programs. Despite the allocation of funds, the problem continues to exist. Ten years after the Disorder in Our Public Schools report, these examples of situations in the schools were reported (Maginis, 1995):
The issue of safety for our nation's students is not only the concern of inner city schools; suburban schools experience violence also (Burbach, 1993; Sautter, 1995). A study done by Hal Burbach for the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia looked at the increase of school violence as reported by principals over the period from 1988-1993:
Although youth crimes have declined in
general, there is evidence that such crimes have become more serious
and violent. From 1975 to 1990, the youth arrest rate dropped
from 26% to 15 % of all arrests (Sautter, 1995). However, Education
USA reported that violent assaults in schools escalated 14% from
1987 to 1990 (Landen, 1992). Although juvenile crimes may not
be on the rise, there is a growing fear that juvenile crimes are
more lethal. In 1992, 2,829 youths were arrested for murder (Sautter,
1995). Traditionally, schools were not affected by juvenile crimes
that may have occurred in the community. Juvenile crimes are now
taking place in the schools and the severity of those crimes is
increasing. A survey of teachers 40 years ago indicated that most
classroom problems were tardiness, talkative students and gum
chewing (Rossman & Morley, 1996). Their contemporary counterparts
indicate the presence of drugs, gangs, and weapons; concerns about
verbal assaults and bullying. Physical attacks, robbery, and rape
were the most pressing concerns (Gaustad, 1991; Sautter 1995).
WHAT DRIVING FORCES FOR THE ISSUE
OF SCHOOL SAFETY, VIOLENCE AND DISCIPLINE?
There are a number of forces that drive the issue of school safety, violence and discipline. After World War II, the school population doubled, to include a more diverse community (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). Concern also rose as the public became more involved in the school. A more involved parent population combined with a more diverse school population contributed to the subtle fear of the minority population that was different from the status quo.
The fear combined with violent current events is the major driving force behind the issue of school safety.
Parents, teachers, community members, administrators, and students have become more concerned due to the reported increase in violent crimes in our schools and our society in general. The fear which follows increased media coverage, whether warranted or unfounded, perpetuates concern for school safety. This concern continues to be a national issue at the federal, state, and local levels.
Although schools reflect the larger communities in which they are located, the public perception is that crimes should not take place on school grounds. Society feels that schools are safe havens that should protect youth from the adverse conditions of the surrounding community (Rossman & Morley, 1996).
There are various explanations for the causes of youth crime and violence that may account for the threats to a safe school environment (Rossman & Morley 1996).
The media and advertising industry contributions to juvenile crime should not go unnoticed. The media highlights and often sensationalizes violence (e.g., television programming, music lyrics, videos, movies). Some children's video games and toys endorse violence as the most appropriate response to deal with frustrations and solve problems.
Where is the issue of School Safety going? What are its prospects?
Across the nation, school communities are attempting to respond to and ease the tense situations in their schools. In 1986, the National Department of Education started the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program to help schools fulfill their responsibility to keep young people safe. Currently, 97 percent of all school districts in America participate (Riley, 1996).
A few organizations, such as the National School Boards Association (1993), offered some strategies and approaches to dealing with school safety. The strategies were: (a) modifications to the physical environment or security protocols, (b) modifications to the organizational environment, (c) introduction of curricular enhancements, and (d) creation of community collaboratives for problem solving and multiservice provision.
Responses to the issue of school safety can be organized into two different frameworks. One response to the issue of school safety and the increase in violent acts by students can be characterized largely as reactive. The other response involves more positive visions for the future and has a more proactive focus.
Reactive reponses tend not to create solutions for the causes of school violence, although they can increase safety for all members of school environment. Some of these actions include installing metal detectors at school building entrances, utilizing drug sniffing dogs, and hiring security officers or police officers to work on the school grounds during the school day. (Landen, 1992). Many schools are enforcing restrictions and regulations that are control aspects of school life, such as a stricter dress codes and the suspending of extracurricular school events. (Sautter, 1995).
Other schools are reponding to the growing concern for safety by attempting to solve the problem rather than just dealing with it. One such approach, called personalization by its creators, seeks to personally reach the students in their school who were most often engaging in disruptive and violent behavior. Huntington Beach High School who reported the success of this approach, based their program in part on the principles advocated by Theodore Sizer (Shore, 1996). Theodore Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, feels that personalization is the key to keeping kids in school. The Coalition for Essential Schools Program stresses that students must feel that adult educators are personally interested in their well being and their staying in school (Coalition of Essential Schools, 1997).
Huntington Beach High School reported success with this approach. Targeted students were paired with an adult buddy (community volunteer) who served as a mentor to support and listen to students. The program also included a team of administrators, student support personnel, community outreach liaisons, as well as faculty members. This team met weekly to discuss the progress of students. The administration held a student forum twice a month, and initiated various student non-academic recognition programs.
The Huntington Beach's program was regarded as successful, in that, the school had the lowest expulsion and suspension rate in the district; 51% of students who were targeted in the program raised their grade point averages; and test scores throughout the school rose. The school reported other positive effects that correlated with the initiation of their program. Administrators were not sure what aspects of the program made the most difference, but they maintained that an overall positive change in the school climate had a cyclical effect on the accomplishments of the students, which continually improved school climate (Shore, 1996).
The American Psychological Association (APA) asserts that if kids learn conflict resolution skills early, they will be less likely to become involved with violence (American Psychological Association, 1990). The Community Board of San Francisco is known nationwide for their belief supported by the APA study. The Community Board's program seeks to teach children and teachers how to settle disputes, communicate effectively, and cool tempers before an individual makes a inappropriate choice and someone gets hurt. The Community Board's curriculum programs include specific lessons that teach skills, but also stress factors that lead a school to become a truly peaceful place (Williams, 1991).
These examples are just a few of the proactive programs in place seeking to increase school safety by curbing violence and improving discipline and behavior of students These programs typically have several aspects in common (Johnson & Johnson, 1995; Kenney & Watson, 1996; Sautter, 1995; Shore, 1996; Wallach, 1994; Williams, 1991):
As our society continues to change, so does the role and responsibility of the public schools. Schools will have to look for creative ways to facilitate discipline and to stop violence.
Critical to the development of safer schools for our children is a connection between local systems, counties, and states. As we move toward national standards for achievement, we need to demonstrate a consistent commitment to safe schools for all children. Many efforts are going on across the country, but there must be greater communication. School and systems will waste time and other valuable resources by attempting to create what works instead of searching for all ready existing programs or strategies that would meet their needs. As the violence in our schools increases, so does the urgency of developing initiatives to counter it.
One of the forces that threaten school safety can be traced to the lack or breakdown of connections in the family and community. Of the successful methods for dealing with these disconnections, the underlying component is increased involvement among members of the school community. Schools must foster bonds between the staff and students, and between schools and families. Academic goals should be the primary focus, but stronger relationships will advance schools to these goals. Schools that do not recognize the importance of building such connections will be undermining their own safety reform efforts. A negative or even adversarial relationship between students and their schools will work against attempts to make them feel safe in school.
Schools must also work with outside agencies
to develop ways to meet the needs that foster violence. For example,
biological factors or stressors were mentioned as an explanation
for increased youth crime. Schools must work with community support
systems such as Departments of Social Services, Mental Health
Agencies, etc. to understand the manifestations of such factors
and to develop plans for pooling resources to deal with the factors
and neutralize or reverse their effects.
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