The percentage of students being victimized at U.S. schools has declined in recent years. Specifically, between 1995 and 2001, the percentage of students who reported being victims of crime at school decreased from 10% to 6%. These numbers included decreases in both theft (from 7% to 4%) and violent victimization (from 3% to 2%). In fact, children appear to be safer at school than in their homes. However, school crime figures in California show that while rates of vandalism and other offenses dropped among elementary school students during that same period, “crimes against persons,” such as assault, nearly doubled. While the U.S. Department of Education keeps figures on school violence, most of these data do not specify the age of the child responsible. Overall, federal figures show that violence against teachers has dropped–in the 1999-2000 school year, 9% of elementary school teachers were threatened by a student, down from 12% in 1993-1994.
As a reaction to highly publicized violent acts on school campuses, zero-tolerance policies have been enacted in many school districts in an effort to create safer learning environments. Such policies may be contributing to the declining rates of school violence, but they have also resulted in younger and younger students being suspended, expelled, and incarcerated for behavioral issues. Some critics suggest that younger students are not actually becoming more violent, but rather that schools are simply focusing on and issuing harsher responses to disruptive behavior beginning as early as kindergarten. Some educators blame these behavioral issues on everything from rising rates of mild disabilities to violent video games to a bad economy, and some point to an increase in firearm ownership in the home. Federal figures also show that of the 3,523 children who were expelled in the 1998-1999 school year for bringing a gun to school, one in 10 was a student in elementary school. As a result of zero-tolerance policies, children as young as five years old have been arrested and sent to detention facilities for “offenses” ranging from throwing temper tantrums, to having scissors in their backpacks, to bringing a knife to cut a birthday cake to school. Boys are five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, with children of color and poor children being at highest risk for arrest and detention. Experts urge parents to remember that fewer than 1% of all homicides among school-age children happen on school grounds or on the way to and from school, and they note that the vast majority of students will never experience violence at school.
Many schools have chosen to institute anger management, peer mediation, and impulse response interventions to directly address social and behavioral skill deficits in elementary-school-age children that can cause in behavioral issues in the classroom and have taken other precautions to keep students safe. Some have focused on keeping weapons out by conducting random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points at the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision. Other schools use metal detectors to look for weapons. Intervention programs have also been expanded to include a greater awareness of problems such as bullying and discrimination.
- Indicators of school crime and safety 2003. (2004). Retrieved February 26, 2010, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/crime03/7.asp?nav=2
- Managing anger at the childcare center and school. (2005). Retrieved February 26, 2010, from http://actagainstviolence.apa.org/anger/atschool.html
- Southern Poverty Law Center launches school to prison reform project to help at-risk children get special education services, avoid incarceration. (2007, September 11). Retrieved from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-launches-school-to-prison-reform-project-to-help-at-risk-children-get-special