This is National Safe Schools Week for the year 2021. As in previous years, there’s some good news and some bad news for those individuals and organizations that are dedicated to ensuring that schools maintain a safe and nurturing learning environment.
The bad news is that school violence is again on the rise after dropping last year. According to EdWeek, from January 1 through mid-October 2021 there have been 24 school shootings – 16 of them just since August 1. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting remote learning wave appear to have interrupted the upward trend in 2020, with 10 shootings total. That was significantly lower than 2019, with 25 shootings, and 2018, with 24. But it still adds up to 83 school shooting incidents in under four years.
Looking at school violence more broadly, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in 2019 (the most recent one conducted) found that:
- 20% of students were bullied on school property, and 8% reported being the victim of cyberbullying.
- 8% of students were in a physical fight at school one or more times.
- 7% of students were threatened with or injured by a weapon one or more times on school property.
- 9% of students stayed away from school at least one day in a 30-day period because they feared for their safety either at school or on the way to and from school.
The good news is that there is a clearer understanding today of the root causes of school violence in all its forms, as well as a growing number of operationally tested approaches to reducing the risk of harm to students. Here are four entities that offer invaluable data, analysis, guidance and real-world solutions for school violence prevention:
National School Safety Center
The non-profit NSSC, which along with state governors and state school superintendents has sponsored National Safe Schools Week since 1984, is a solid resource for effective approaches to school violence prevention. It offers services for school safety site assessments; leadership training in the form of conferences, seminars and workshops; technical assistance to school districts and communities that are facing unique challenges in the areas of school crime prevention and safe school planning; and many books, resource papers and news journals.
U.S. Department of Justice
For decades, DoJ has been at the forefront of the federal government’s efforts to improve school safety. Its National Institute of Justice offers a well-funded grant program known as the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) that brings together the nation’s best minds to address the root causes and consequences of school violence and identify effective strategies to respond to and resolve safety issues faced by schools and students.
DoJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has provided over $14 billion in community policing grants since it was established in 1994, including several focused specifically on school safety. It also has an extensive catalog of resources, and produces periodic studies. Last year, for example, the COPS office released a report that identified school safety assessments as the top “essential action” that schools, school districts and law enforcement agencies can take to improve campus safety. The report states that a comprehensive risk assessment that identifies the highest-probability threats, their potential consequences, and the school or school district’s vulnerabilities to those threats is the “foundation for all school safety and security planning and operations.”
Most recently, Attorney General Merrick Garland on October 4 directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet soon with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing a disturbing increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in U.S. public schools.
U.S. Department of Education
DOE’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center offers a variety of resources on all-hazard risk to K-12 schools, including guidance on emergency management for schools, districts and institutes of higher education; grant programs; publications and guidance documents; and extensive training programs.
U.S. Secret Service
Although not often thought of as a player in school safety, the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) has been conducting research, training, consultation and information sharing on threat assessment and the prevention of targeted violence since the 1990s. One product of its research is the annual report, Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools. This year, for the first time, the report deliberately examines 67 attacks that were successfully averted between 2006 and 2018, noting the vital role that bystanders who report suspicious activity can play.
The report identified numerous findings and commonalities across the 67 incidents, among them:
- Targeted school violence is preventable, if communities can identify warning signs and intervene.
- Schools should seek to intervene with students before their behavior warrants legal consequences.
- Students were most often motivated to plan a school attack because of a grievance with classmates.
- Students are best positioned to identify and report concerning behaviors displayed by their classmates.
- The role of parents and families in recognizing concerning behavior is critical to prevention.
- School resource officers (SROs) play an important role in school violence prevention.
- Removing a student from school does not eliminate the risk they might pose to themselves or others.
- Students displaying an interest in violent or hate-filled topics should elicit immediate assessment and intervention.
- Many school attack plots were associated with certain dates, particularly in the month of April.
- Many of the student plotters had access to weapons, including unimpeded access to firearms.
As Secret Service Director James Murray put it when unveiling the report, “when people come forward to report concerning behaviors, they can and do save lives. That’s the bottom line, here.”
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Note: At Haystax, school safety is both a core mission and a passion. Learn more about our student threat assessment and school site assessment apps, as well as our apps for incident and suspicious activity reporting, safety drill management and digital threat monitoring, by clicking on this link.