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School Violence

How Prevalent is it?

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As teachers, parents and students prepare and begin this new school year, hopefully fears of school violence such as the Columbine shootings will not be their major concern. What is sad is that school violence needs to be a concern at all. The fact is, violence of one sort or another is part of many schools today. Fortunately, this usually involves a small group of people fighting amongst themselves. In a recently completed study of the Class of 2000, CBS News found that 96% of students said they felt safe in school. However, 22% of those same students said that they knew students who regularly carried weapons to school. This does not mean that students did not fear a school violence incident like Columbine. 53% said that a school shooting could happen in their own school. How good are the students perceptions? How widespread is school violence? Are we safe in our schools? What can we do to ensure safety for everyone? These are the questions this article addresses.

How Prevalent is School Violence?

Since the 1992-3 school year, 270 violent deaths have occurred at schools across the nation according to The National School Safety Center's Report on School Associated Violent Deaths. The majority of these deaths, 207, were shooting victims. However, the number of deaths in the 1999-2000 school year was almost one quarter the number that occurred in 1992-3. Though those numbers seem encouraging, most people would agree that any statistical data of this nature is unacceptable. Further, most school violence does not result in death.

The following information comes from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics(NCES). This organization commissioned a survey of Principals in 1,234 regular public elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the 1996-7 school year. What were their findings?

  • 57% of public elementary and secondary school principals stated that one or more incidents of crime or violence were reported to the police
  • 10% of all public schools had one or more serious violent crimes (murder, rape, sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery)
  • The most reported crime was physical attacks or fights without a weapon
  • Most of the serious violent crimes occurred in the middle and high schools
  • A larger percentage of violent crimes occurred in city schools and in large schools (over 1000 students) - for more information on the benefits of smaller schools click here.

Remember when reading these statistics that 43% of public schools reported no crimes and 90% had no serious violent crimes. Taking that into consideration, however, we have to admit that violence and crime does exist, and is not necessarily rare, in the school setting.

When teachers, students, and law enforcement officials were asked about their feelings about school violence in the Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher: 1999, they revealed that their overall perceptions were that violence was decreasing. However, when asked about their personal experiences, one-quarter of the students reported having been a victim of a violent crime in or around the school. More scary yet, one in eight students had at some time carried a weapon to school. Both of these statistics were an increase from the previous survey conducted in 1993. We must fight against this complacency without overreacting. We must fight to make our schools safe. But what can we do?

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