More than 55 million young people will return to school in the United States this fall. While schools remain relatively safe, any amount of violence is unacceptable. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators expect schools to be safe havens of learning. Acts of violence disrupt the learning process. Violence has a negative effect on students, the school itself, and even the broader community.
School violence is a subset of youth violence, a broader public health problem. Youth violence is the intentional use of physical force or power by a young person against another person, group, or community, with the youth’s behavior likely to cause physical or psychological harm.
Examples of violent behavior include:
School violence occurs:
Sometimes things that happen during the school day result in later violence in the community. Preventing youth violence requires schools, families, and community members and organizations to work together.
In a school survey on crime and safety conducted during the 2007-2008 school year, 75% of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence. Incidents of violence included rape, attempted rape, sexual battery, threatened or actual physical attack or fight, and robbery.
In a 2009 nationwide survey of students in grades 9-12, one in five students reported having been bullied on school property at least once in the previous 12 months. Further, 11.1% of students reported having been in a physical fight, and 7.7% reported having been threatened with a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) on school property during that same time period.
In the 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey, students who reported any criminal victimization at school also reported they were the targets of traditional (62.2 percent) and electronic (11.6 percent) bullying (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010319).
Lethal school-associated violence is a rarity. A study on school-associated violent deaths revealed that from 1992 to 2006, 116 students were killed while at or on the way to or from school or a school-sponsored event in 109 separate incidents - an average of 16.5 student homicides each year. School-associated violent deaths at schools account for less than one percent of the homicides and suicides among children ages 5-18. Nearly 50% of the homicide perpetrators in school-associated violent deaths gave some type of warning signal (e.g., a threat, a note) prior to the event.
The good news is that schools can make numerous efforts to improve the overall environment and to reduce violence. These include improved classroom management practices (such as posting clear expectations for behavior), promoting cooperative learning techniques, enhancing student monitoring and supervision, and reducing bullying by involving parents/caregivers.
In addition to the social environment of a school, the way a school is designed might reduce crime and improve safety. Features of the school environment that could influence safety include natural surveillance such as low or no bushes or shrubbery blocking the view from building windows; limiting access to the building through identified entrances and exits that are continually monitored; territoriality such as prominently displaying the school mascot or logo; physical maintenance such as making sure the building structure is sound; and order maintenance such as making sure all of the lights in the building are working.
Schools are influenced by the larger community, so broader efforts to change the physical and social environment of communities can also benefit schools. Strategies to change the broader community environment include increasing community participation; providing more formal and informal supervision for youth through afterschool programs and recreational opportunities; reducing youth access to alcohol and drugs; and improving financial, housing, and employment opportunities in impoverished areas.
Through its Division of Violence Prevention and Division of Adolescent and School Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works to understand school violence and to stop it from happening before it begins by collecting data on violent trends, identifying factors that put people at risk or protect them from violence, developing and testing prevention strategies and programs, and ensuring widespread use of strategies and programs that work.
CDC prevention resources:
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