Promoting Safe Schools

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Studies show that the most effective interventions in reducing violence in schools require changing the environment of the entire school. This lesson provides an overview of staff members' responsibilities in promoting safe schools.

Violence in Schools

Twenty children and six staff members were killed in the December 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the following 18 months, there were at least 74 additional instances of shots fired on school grounds.

Teachers, staff, parents and students consider violence in our schools to be a chief educational concern. In many school districts, more students and staff report feeling unsafe at school in recent years than ever before. Education professionals know that a safe school environment is vital to an effective educational environment. Studies show that children learn best in familiar, peaceful and comfortable surroundings. Therefore, if students feel their school is unsafe, it presents a serious challenge for teachers.

Causes of Violence

In order to promote safe schools, educators must first understand what causes violence in schools. There are several different types of school violence. One of the most prevalent types involves students attacking school staff and other students; an example is the deadly Columbine High School shootings that killed 13 people in 1999.

Research shows that several factors play a part in school violence perpetrated by students. Schools are more likely to be victimized by violence if:

  • The school is overcrowded
  • School space is poorly designed and used
  • There is a lack of school disciplinary procedures
  • There is an environment of multi-cultural insensitivity

Meanwhile, students who are at higher risk to commit violent acts tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • Rejection by peers
  • Social withdrawal and/or isolation
  • Lower school interest and performance

Experts advise school staff to be alert for students who show patterns of bullying behavior, uncontrollable anger or feelings of victimization. In particular, the American Psychological Association suggests teachers and staff watch for four accelerating factors that can indicate a particular student's risk of violence. They are:

  • Early involvement with drugs and/or alcohol
  • Easy access to weapons, especially handguns
  • Association with antisocial, deviant peer-groups
  • Pervasive exposure to media violence

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