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Does School Safety Go Too Far?

Dec 05, 2011

A teen dressed in the same clothing as everyone else walks through a metal detector under the watchful eye of a police officer. Although this may sound like a student entering a juvenile detention center, it's actually the scene at some schools. Are these safety measures appropriate, or are they really doing more damage than good?

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By Jessica Lyons

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School Violence

Violence at schools is a serious problem that can be very disruptive to students' ability to learn and get an education. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in 2009 11.1% of students in ninth to 12th grade had been in physical fights at school, while 7.7% said they had been on school property when they were injured or threatened by a classmate with a weapon. Of the students surveyed, 5.6% said they had taken a weapon to school at least once during a 30-day period. Additionally, five percent said that they had missed one day or more during a 30-day period because of feeling unsafe at school.

In addition to impacting students, violence at schools can extend to teachers as well. The article 'Impacts of Metal Detectors Use in Schools: Insights From 15 Years of Research,' which was published in the Journal of Health in February of 2011, noted that during the 2003-2004 school year, seven percent of teachers said a student had threatened them, while three percent said they had actually been attacked.

Methods for Addressing the Problem

Schools are turning to a variety of methods to try to reduce violence in their learning environments, including resorting to using metal detectors or searching students to help find weapons, as well as having police officers to aid in keeping the peace. As the North Carolina Family Policy Council noted, some schools also enforce dress codes to prevent issues over designer clothes and students wearing gang colors or clothing that makes it easier to conceal weapons.

A RAND Corporation report highlighted many other methods schools use, including profiling students who could be violent, offering programs to discuss the issue, having counseling for students seen as being at-risk and having conflict mediation. Schools also may implement strict conduct regulations.

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Positive and Negative Results

When it comes to instituting some of these tools, it seems there can be mixed results. For instance, while having a police officer at a school could reduce crime and improve safety, the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing explains that it could also result in students and employees being fearful, and it might even increase concerns that there is a problem at the school.

Metal detectors could cause similar feelings. The RAND Corporation's report said that some school administrators had been cutting back on their metal detector use, as well as student searches, specifically because 'they appear to increase students' fears and anxieties.'

A Balancing Act

Schools have to do a balancing act to keep students safe while not causing anxieties that could negatively impact their learning, which might not be an easy task. The RAND Corporation suggests that being proactive is important.

An October 2006 article from MSNBC explained that researchers recommend schools focus more on 'listening to students' and 'discouraging and discovering attacks while they're still in the planning stages.' Among the recommendations made were for schools to have an adult available who students would feel comfortable talking with and to encourage students to report possible issues they know of. Other steps schools should consider taking are being vigilant for possible behavior problems, creating a crisis plan and addressing bullying issues as they arise so that they don't turn into larger problems.

Students skipping classes can also be a big problem. Read how some schools are addressing it by imposing fines on students.

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