"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 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
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):
- Teachers spent 30 to 80 percent of their
time on discipline.
- Three million high school students were
victims of in-school crimes each month.
- Four out of every ten high school students
had been a crime victim the previous year.
- Each month 1,000 teachers required medical
attention because of in-school assault and 125,000 were threatened.
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 1994 National Teacher of the Year
helped her California students hide weapons for protection "so
they wouldn't get killed after school".
- A Maryland teacher was shot after encountering
a student armed with a pistol in the school restroom.
- A Dartmouth, Massachusetts high school
student was knifed and clubbed to death during a government class.
- An Atlanta student opened fire in a
crowded school cafeteria, killing one student and wounding another.
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
School Violence - Five Year Increases
Percent of Principals Reporting
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
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).
- Biological factors or stressors that
impair individuals' abilities to exercise cognitive controls or
engage in stable social relationships;
- fetal alcohol syndrome
- "crack babies" who suffer
from chemically compromised neonatal development
- Family environment/relationships, including:
- poor parenting skills and child-rearing
- insufficient nurturing
- lack of positive social relationships
- lack of parental supervision
- ineffective or harsh discipline
- repeated exposure to domestic violence;
one of the strongest predictors of youth involvement in violence
is a history of prior violence, including having been a victim
of abuse (Sautter, 1995)
- Limited opportunity routes attributed
to social inequities (such as racial/ethnic discrimination ) and
- adults' hampered abilities to be gainfully
- youths' minimized exposure to positive
social role models
- youths' diminished ability to envision
productive, secure futures.
- Pervasiveness of crime and violence
throughout the society
- rising substance abuse
- proliferation of handguns
- distressed neighborhoods where threats
to safety are endemic and taken for granted.
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
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
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,
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
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):
- they work to increase mutual respect
among and between teachers, students, and administration;
- they actively teach conflict resolution
skills and mediation skills;
- they offer proactive assistance (academic
tutoring, social services connections, community support) to students
who are repeatedly being disruptive and unsafe;
- they advocate personal responsibility
for actions and promote self-discipline.
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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