• from THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, March 4, 2006 - "Public schools are safer than ever despite a few sensational incidents"
  • from EducationNews.org, March 6, 2006 - "School Safety Data Give Reason for Optimism"

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Public schools are safer than ever despite a few sensational incidents
School Safety Data Give Reason for Optimism

March 4-6, 2005

By William L. Bainbridge

Fear of violence can lead students to skip classes, curtail activities and even carry weapons to school. In recent years violence has ranged from the massive gun attacks at Columbine High in Jefferson County, Colorado, and Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to incidents of violence throughout the nation. These events paint our schools as focal points for violence. Such tragedies remind us that schools can be targets for attacks.

There is a growing perception that public schools are not safe places. Media headlines contribute to the myth that school buildings are unsafe, when compared to other public gathering places. While the threat of violence has afflicted many aspects of our entire society in recent years, schools, in general, remain among the safest public places in the country.

Citizens should have high expectations that children will be safe at school. Educational leaders have focused in recent years on providing safe and disciplined school environments for students and teachers. Many schools have increased expulsions of violent students by adopting " zero tolerance policies" toward serious offenders. Since students often know when dangerous activities are being planned, educators are trying to develop processes and atmospheres where young people are willing to report what they know. With better data, schools can more effectively identify threats and reduce violence. Some school systems have invested in high-tech security devices that are helpful. Others have even hired SWAT teams to practice emergency evacuation drills.

Evidence indicates the efforts are paying off. Recent statistics show the number of violent crimes on school campuses is small and continues to decline. While improvements have occurred in school security, safety remains the most important responsibility school leaders face today.

" Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005," a recent joint study by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, reports statistics about crime incidences occurring in school as well as on the way to and from school. Major findings include:

  • In the most recent federally reported data there were 17 homicides and 5 suicides of school youth at school, less than 1 per million students enrolled.
  • The number of school-associated violent deaths has decreased in a decade by 40 percent, from 43 to 26 last year, in a population of 52 million U.S. students.
  • The violent crime victimization rate at school declined from 48 per 1,000 students in to 28 over a decade.
  • Less than 1 percent of students reported serious violent victimization (such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated assault).
  • Theft, bullying, drugs, and weapons are still widespread, but in the last decade reports of physical fights fell 14 percent, reports of students being injured in fights dropped 20 percent, and the number of students who reported having carried a weapon in the past 30 days decreased by 30 percent.
  • Regrettably many schools continue to be unprepared for disasters.

Without a safe learning environment, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. In fact, as the data in the federal report show, students were about two times as likely to be victims of serious violent crime away from school as at school. On the other hand, the data demonstrate the need for continued efforts to improve school safety. While administrators cannot guarantee student safety, they must increase efforts to ensure school children are safe within the school environment. However, school officials must do everything in their power to continue to increase the odds that children are safe at school and away from school.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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