Violence in schools is increasing at an alarming rate as more teenagers gain access to weapons. It is important to devise a plan which could reduce this violence and make schools safer for future generations.
Facts about School Violence
Although fears concerning school violence have increased in the last several years, recent studies show that “most children are safer in school than out of it. Fatal incidents of school violence remained relatively uncommon in 1999, with the odds of dying a violent death in school being one in two million. Additionally, most injuries that occurred at school were unintentional, not the result of violence (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
Although deaths from violence are rare in schools, there are some facilities that have a serious problem with violence, creating fear for the staff, students and their parents.
This fear can prevent students from performing well academically since it increases the amount of stress they are under and in many cases increases truancy.
In the 1996-97 school year, “more than half of all U.S. public schools reported experiencing at least one crime incident, and 1 in 10 reported at least one serious violent crime. Although fewer school-associated violent deaths have occurred in recent years, the total number of multiple victim homicide events has increased, from 2 events in 1992-93 to 5 events in 1997-98 (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
During 1999-2000 there was a decline in deadly violence and weapon use, however the “the proportion of students who were injured with a weapon at school remained as high in 2000 as it was during 1983-1993, when the epidemic of youth violence was at its peak (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
In 1997, the top three causes of injury in school were falls, sports-related injures and assaults. In 1999, “14.2% of students nationwide had been in a physical fight on school property one or more times during the preceding 12 months (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).” survey in 1998 revealed that “10.6% of students reported that they had been bullied ‘sometimes’ or ‘weekly’, thirteen percent reported bullying other students, and 6.3% reported being both a perpetrator and a target of bullying (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
The most frequent type of bullying these students experienced was insults concerning appearance or speech.
Males reported bullying more than females, while “girls were more likely to report being bullied with derogatory rumors or sexual remarks. Boys more commonly reported being slapped, hit, or pushed (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
In 1997, crime and violence was greater in middle and high schools than elementary schools. Students “ages twelve to eighteen were victims of more than 2.7 million total crimes at school in the 1999-2000 school year, with students under age fourteen being more likely to be crime victims (www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).”
An interesting fact that researchers found when studying student shooters and killers is “the majority do not share common traits — students varied in age, race, ethnic and family backgrounds, and school performance. In addition, behavior and mental problems were not consistent (Klug, 2001).”
Researchers explored shootings which occurred from 1974 to 2001, concentrating on “37 school shootings in 26 states and found that 75% of the acts were planned ahead of time and in almost all cases, the student shooter told a peer or sibling about his or her intentions. Alarmingly, more than one incident took place in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee (Klug, 2001).”
According to the United States surgeon general, ten percent of the country’s children and adolescents “suffer from mental illness critical enough to cause some type of harm, while it is estimated that fewer than one in five of these children receive treatment (Klug, 2001).” An approach to assist these children is outlined in the “National Action Agenda for Children’s Mental Health Report, which calls for promoting public awareness, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and improving the assessment and recognition of mental health needs in children (Klug, 2001).”
Currently, children do not have a main mental heath care organization and overall, “there is a lack of a basic mental health care infrastructure and many institutions have fragmented mental health care, ranging from schools to primary care, and child welfare to the juvenile justice system (Klug, 2001).”
In a number of schools, there are significant problems concerning name-calling and racial tension.
Many advocacy groups feel the problem must “be confronted more forcefully by staff, and there should be parent task forces on minority concerns (Erickson, 2003).” These groups state there is a crisis in numerous schools, and this crisis “refers to many problems, including low staff and student morale, low student achievement and cross-racial violence. There are a lot of racially motivated incidents at school and some feel the administrations are not doing enough (Erickson, 2003).” Principals however are quick to point out that they are “proactive and assertive and do not sweep problems under the rug (Erickson, 2003).”
Administrators state they do not condone, or tolerate any sort of racial name-calling.
Crime rates throughout the United States can have a directed bearing on school violence.
In 2000, the FBI reported that the number of serious crimes declined.”3%, compared to 1999’s 7% decrease (Klug, 2001).” There was an increase in rape and aggravated assault, and Southern states had an overall increase, reporting crime there had increased 1.2%.
The Northeast states reported an increase in murder rates of 5.5%, and “crime rose or remained the same in smaller cities, decreased in cities with populations of more than 250,000, rose in suburbs as well as rural communities. Criminologists predict an increase in crime because of the predicted increase in the teen-age population (Klug, 2001).”
Anti-Bullying report by the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found “anti-bullying programs are more likely to prevent school shootings than metal detectors, student profiles and police officers. The Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted Violence in Schools found that in three-fourths of the cases studied, student shooters were reacting to being bullied by fellow students (Klug, 2001).”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has established guidelines to prevent violence in schools. The “guidelines for administrators and staff include:
School Security, including reporting threats and acts of violence.
Communicating and enforcing student rules, while having programs for suspended or expelled students with a low student-to-staff ratio.
Implementing a student court for non-criminal offenses.
Screen employees since they have a profound effect on children’s development.
Encouragement of parental involvement.
A safe and secure physical environment to promote and enhance the learning process.
Provide counseling services for issues such as anger management and substance abuse, and implementing programs to peacefully resolve conflict issues.
Understanding diversity issues, since intolerance often leads to conflict, interferes with the learning process, and has been a factor in violence in schools.
Implementing anti-bullying programs, and establishing anti-gang programs.
Reducing isolation, increasing positive self-respect in students and reducing suicide, since those involved in school violence believe their actions could result in their own deaths.
Providing drug and alcohol education (www.theiacp.org/pubinfo/pubs/pslc/svindex.htm).”
Using Proven Methods
In 2001, the Boston School System began utilizing methods proven effective in decreasing street violence as a means to reduce school violence. School officials began “community policing to combat an upswing of ‘unacceptable behavior’, which included several incidents in which teachers were allegedly assaulted by students or irate parents (Farmer, 2001).” The program, which was first implemented to reduce violence at Hyde Park and Dorchester high schools, proved successful and was instituted at schools which had incidents of school violence. The “police and school officials teamed with probation officers, street workers, the clergy and personnel from the state Department of Youth Services and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to reach out to troubled students (Farmer, 2001).” The police department increased their presence at the schools “by more than doubling the officers assigned to work full time with students and school police (Farmer, 2001).”
If officials identified a disruptive student and felt there needed to be an intervention, “students, faculty and parents were informed of ‘the code of conduct’ and the students were told the unacceptable behavior would not be put up with (Farmer, 2001).” The overall “school safety plan:
Focused on ‘prevention-intervention’ with the city’s middle school students. The police department’s anti-gang unit met with small groups of at-risk students and spoke to school-wide assemblies about violence and ways to combat it.
Instituted several middle school programs that focused on safely issues, making good decisions and conflict resolution.
Targeted a rise in ‘inappropriate behavior’ at the elementary school level.
Created an adult support system in every school by putting more responsibility in the hands of parents instead of heaping it all on one or two school administrators.
Had police conduct a ‘walk through’ of every elementary school to review its school safety plan and made other safety recommendations (Farmer, 2001).”
The main emphasis was getting the families, parents and community involved in reducing school violence. They also instituted a zero tolerance plan for parents who attacked any faculty member, “proposed the formation of a parent-family mediation center and moved to put more conflict resolution and civility programs in more schools while firmly stating the courts would handle a situation if necessary (Farmer, 2001).”
Schools across the country, such as those in Bergen County, New Jersey, are currently revising and implementing policies to deal with school violence. Their “policies on vandalism and violence in the schools are being modified to refer to bullying and harassment, and to make them conform to other school policies on bullying and intimidation (Austin, 2003).”
School violence is a crucial problem facing children today. It is imperative to not only find ways to reduce the violence, but to implement them as well. It is up to the adults to protect future generations and provide them with a safe learning environment.
Austin, Charles. (20 November, 2003). Fair Lawn plans to update school policies.
The Record (Bergen County, NJ).
Erickson, Doug. (22 November, 2003). EAST HIGH TROUBLED, SOME SAY; GROUP
SAYS RACIAL TENSION SHOULD BE BETTER HANDLED. Wisconsin
Farmer, Tom. (05 February, 2001). Menino targets school violence. The Boston Herald.
Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence. (accessed 24 November, 2003). www.theiacp.org/pubinfo/pubs/pslc/svindex.htm).
Klug, Elizabeth. (01 February, 2001). Inter-Alia. (how to reduce risk of school violence).
What is the extent of the Problem of School Violence? (accessed 24 November, 2003). www.preventioninstitute.org/schoolviolence.html).
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