School safety

Violence and crime are increasingly a concern for every community, and our schools are not immune. Statistics show that violence in our communities, especially among youth, does appear to have increased. School shootings have left many with the impression our classrooms are danger zones although schools are often the safest places in the community. When violence does occur at school, it impacts students’ and their ability to learn, the staff’s ability to teach and discipline students as well their willingness to stay in the profession. Finally it affects parents’ and the community’s confidence in the schools.

Because violence surrounds schools does not mean violence is in schools. In fact, schools are safer havens for many children than their homes. For example, according to a 1995 U.S. Department of Justice report (Hyman, Weiler, Shanock & Britton, 1995):

  • Rape, robbery and assault are about twice as likely to occur in or around the home than in school (23.3 percent home related, 12.1 percent school related in 1993).
  • In 1990, 10,565 deaths were due to gunshots; 71 occurred in schools.
  • The Los Angeles city homicide rate between the academic years of 1992 and 1993 was 29.30 per 100,000 persons; the rate for the city’s public schools during the same time period was 0.12 per 100,000.
  • In 1991, the city of Houston had a homicide rate of 366.5 per 100,000 persons; schools had a homicide rate of 0.71 per 100,000 students.
  • In 1991, the aggravated assault rate for the city of Chicago was 1,502 per 100,000 persons; at the public schools the rate was 325 per 100,000 students.

What are School Districts doing?
In an effort to provide students with a safe learning environment and staff with a safe working environment, districts utilize a variety of approaches. Many districts coordinate these programs through comprehensive district-wide safety plans. District safety plans are accompanied by school site safety and security plans tailored to the needs and physical environment of each campus.

Prevention and intervention policies, practices, activities and strategies schools may consider include:

  • a positive school climate that promotes respect for diversity, personal and social responsibility, effective interpersonal and communications skills, and anger management;
  • discipline, including behavioral expectations and known, consistent consequences for violations of school or district rules;
  • establish curriculum efforts in alternatives to violence:
    • conflict resolution and peer mediation;
    • character/values education;
    • multicultural education, respect for cultural differences
  • parent education, outreach and involvement programs, including strategies to help ensure that parents support and reinforce school rules and to increase the number of adults on campus
  • emergency preparedness or crisis intervention policies and plans, including staff responsibilities; evacuation plans; plans for communicating with schools, school board members, parents and the media; and follow-up counseling
  • dress codes, including the adopting of uniforms
  • avoidance and self-defense training
  • anonymous tip boxes and tip line to report crimes and rumors
  • peer groups
  • increasing alternative programs requiring community service as a graduation requirement
  • mentoring programs
  • parent/student contracts
  • gang prevention programs
  • student safety forums
  • metal detectors
  • video surveillance
  • banning of beepers and cellular phones
  • elimination or searches of lockers
  • student IDs
  • closed campuses
  • school lock-downs
  • parent patrols
  • security personnel
  • communications devices for staff
  • repair of vandalism and graffiti
  • on-site suspension
  • Saturday work programs
  • efforts to increase attendance and decrease truancy
  • efforts to prevent the sale and use of alcohol and other drugs
  • visitor registration
  • staff training in violence prevention and intervention techniques and in how to implement safety and crisis plans.

Since the recent school shootings, communities across the country have searched for reasons why some kids become violent. Experts believe that stress for events such as domestic violence, alcohol and drugs, and social and academic pressures can send some children over the edge.

Here are some warning signs that parents and educators should keep in mind when considering a troubled child:

  • Detachment: A lack of bonding and relating to others.
  • Withdrawal or perceptions of hopelessness.
  • Threats and efforts to obtain the means and opportunity to carry them out.
  • Sudden, significant changes in behavior, appearance, etc.
  • Disciplinary problems in school and/or delinquent, criminal activity in schools or communities.
  • Unusual interest or preoccupation with weapons, bombs and violent “entertainment” forms (music, movies, etc.)
  • Abuse of animals, suicide threats or attempts, self-mutilation, etc.

Through education, parents, school officials and law enforcement must become better prepared to recognize and effectively cope with danger and potential violence in our schools.

For further information on this or others safety topics please contact the University of Florida Police Department’s Community Services Division at 392-1409.