Serious violent victimization rates were lower at school than away from school from 1992 through 2004. An online edition is available with up-to-date information. During that same period, the violent crime rate at school dropped by 54% and thefts at school declined by 65%. During this span, middle school students (those from 12 to 14 years old) were more likely than older students (15 to 18 years old) to be crime victims at school. Additionally, while overall gang offenses in public schools are down, studies show gang offenses rising in middle schools. Some police officials are concerned that middle schools are emerging as epicenters of gang activity and recruitment, with more and more students are forging their first gang ties at ever younger ages. In interviews with 50 current and former gang members and their associates, researchers found that 75% of gang members joined these organizations by age 14 and 25% joined by age 12.
While overall crime statistics and school-based crimes have decreased in recent years, specific concerns have arisen regarding crimes, violence, and bullying on middle school campuses. As a result of zero-tolerance school violence policies put into effect as a response to the incident at Columbine High School and out of concern for school safety, middle school campuses often employ harsh disciplinary consequences for behavioral infractions. One school in Chicago is reported to have had 25 of its students, aged 11 to 14, arrested for participating in a food fight in the school cafeteria. A Madison, Wisconsin, sixth-grader was suspended and told he would be expelled for a year when he brought a steak knife to school to dissect an onion for a class science project. An 11-year-old girl was suspended for drawing stick figures of her teachers with arrows through their heads. A 10-year-old Florida girl was suspended after she pointed an oak leaf she was pretending was a gun at classmate. Thirty states have also adopted laws to address bullying prevention in recent years. For example, one New Jersey program sends middle and high school students who demonstrate at-risk bullying behaviors to a five-day out-of-school educational and rehabilitation program.
Critics of the zero-tolerance policies agree that children involved in high-risk behaviors should face some discipline or punishment, but argue that subjecting children to mandatory suspensions for these minor types of infractions does more harm than good. Some recent data indicate racial disparities among those students who receive harsh discipline. The Ohio Department of Education found that, in 297 districts that divided their discipline data by race, 252 districts disciplined blacks more frequently than whites. Those figures reflect nationwide trends.
Most critics of zero-tolerance would prefer more school autonomy in choosing appropriate consequences for offenses committed by students. A wide array of promising interventions and strategies exist for addressing problem behaviors, including positive behavioral interventions and supports. Some use graduated sanctions, promote positive overall school environments, and provide wraparound services for students with more-extensive needs. Some focus on individual classroom rules and interventions, because bullying often takes place inside classrooms and within groups of students who know one another. Some recommend practices that push students to examine their actions and make amends to those whom they hurt.
- Schabner, D. (2008, May 8). Schools suspend for doodles and dye jobs. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91666&page=1
- Stop Bullying Now. www.stopbullying.gov
- Wald, J., & Lisa, T. (2010, February 22). Taking school safety too far. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/02/24/22wald.h29.html
- Zapotosky, M. (2009, October 27). In N. Va., mixed news about gang activity. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 28, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/26/AR2009102603038.html