Stopping violence in schools: 5 Tips for K-12

School is meant to be a safe space for everyone — students, staff, and community members alike. Unfortunately, violent behavior is challenging that notion in more ways than one.

Below, we’ll help you learn the truth about school violence, what it includes, and best practices to help prevent it in your school district.

What is school violence?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term “school violence” refers to any violent behavior that occurs in a school setting. Notably, this includes all types of school property — bus, playground, classroom, etc. It can happen on the way to or from campus, on field trips or events, and may even happen digitally across school-provided resources.

Another important distinction is that school and youth violence overlap, but aren’t exactly the same. Whereas youth violence is specific to aggressive behavior between two or more adolescents, school-related violence could be committed by a teacher, parent, or staff member. That said, it’s most commonly committed by a student.

Types of school violence

Violence on school grounds can take many forms. These include:

  1. Bullying: As a type of toxic behavior, bullying is characterized by repeated and intentional aggression toward another person. This includes physical, psychological, and sexual harassment. In the United States, 1 in 5 students aged 12-18 report being bullied on school property every year.
  2. Cyberbullying: Like its counterpart, cyberbullying includes sexual or psychological abuse. This may involve posting false rumors, mean comments, or embarrassing photos/videos online. Nearly half of U.S. teens have been cyberbullied, while 53% say it’s a major problem for people their age.
  3. Physical violence: This includes any form of physical aggression, such as fighting, the use of weapons, or criminal acts like theft and arson. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for disagreements between classmates to evolve into physical violence. In 2019, a CDC study revealed that 8% of high school students had been in a fight on school property within the 12 months before the survey.
  4. Sexual violence: During the 2020-21 academic year, school districts reported 2,700 incidents of sexual assault and 350 incidents of rape or attempted rape. Notably, these numbers may not be truly indicative of how widespread school-related sexual violence is, as survivors may not always feel comfortable reporting their experiences.
  5. Gun violence: Sadly, weak gun safety laws, gang activity, and poor mental health have created an epidemic of gun violence that has spilled over onto school grounds. In 2023, there were over 150 school shooting incidents across the country.

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School violence facts

As a school district, it might be difficult to wrap your head around violent behavior happening on school property. To help you understand its significance, let’s review some essential facts about school violence:

How common is school violence?

Generally speaking, toxic behavior happens much more frequently than you might imagine. In fact, according to a 2019 CDC survey, 44% of high school students had one or more “violent experiences” during the previous year. That included bullying, physical threats, dating violence, and sexual assault.

Crucially, certain demographics experience school violence more frequently than others. For example, female students were significantly more likely than male students to experience three or more types of violent behavior. Those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were also much likelier to report three forms of violence than their heterosexual peers.

Per another study from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, school shooting incidents have risen gradually since 1970. More importantly, they’ve taken a sharp increase over the past few years.

What causes school violence?

There’s no underlying reason why a student, parent, teacher, or other school staff member would engage in such behavior. Whereas one child might be bullied, another student may act out because of something they experienced at home.

The causes are numerous. However, experts point to several risk factors that can make a young person more likely to commit violent acts, such as:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Prior history of aggressive behavior
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Access to weapons
  • Poverty or high crime rates in the community

What are the impacts of school violence?

Committing, experiencing, or witnessing violence can have major effects on kids, families, and community members.

Sometimes, a child who’s been victimized by violence or exposed to it may feel that acting out will keep them safe. However, committing violence only affords them a temporary sense of satisfaction; soon after, they become fearful of punishment or retribution. This, in turn, may trigger even more violence — thus creating a vicious cycle.

Aside from the obvious physical impacts of experiencing violence, there are also traumatic consequences. For example, witnessing gun violence can cause psychological distress and may worsen underlying mental health conditions. If untreated, long-term effects may even include self-harm or suicidal ideation.

School violence prevention: 5 Tips and best practices

Preventing school violence is an absolute must for your school district. But how do you start?

Here are a few strategies you can use to prevent violence and improve school safety:

1. Create a safe, supportive school climate

School climate refers to the “quality and character” of your academic environment. In other words, it defines whether your students’ experiences are positive or negative in and outside the classroom.

It’s important to establish a healthy climate where everyone — students and staff — feels safe at all times. An environment that’s welcoming and supportive of all peoples, backgrounds, and beliefs is generally less likely to witness conflicts that devolve into violence.

One way to achieve this is through social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL classes aren’t necessarily violence or bullying prevention programs, but they do teach kids the social skills required to understand their differences. They teach self-control and awareness, which can help people avoid disagreements. Research shows that SEL can prevent school violence (or at least reduce it).

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2. Know the warning signs

Understanding the difference between normal and anomalous behavior can help you spot at-risk students before it’s too late. School personnel should familiarize themselves with common indicators, such as:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Academic dropoff
  • Expression of violence in writings or drawings
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Impulsiveness
  • Sudden disciplinary problems
  • Bullying behavior

3. Monitor online activity

Many of the indicators above manifest themselves online, such as on social media or over email. However, with more schools adopting cloud-based resources like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, students are increasingly dropping hints through school-provided cloud applications.

But, if you don’t have a cloud monitoring solution, your school district can’t uncover these risk signals. Letting one slip by undetected could ultimately jeopardize school safety. That’s why schools leverage tools like Cloud Monitor. With native integration into Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, you can automatically identify at-risk individuals.

For example, the platform notifies you when students are discussing self-harm or suicide. It can also alert you of bullying, cyberbullying, violent threats, and more.

4. Establish anonymous reporting systems

It’s difficult for anyone, let alone a child, to talk about sensitive topics. Anonymous reporting mechanisms allow students to feel comfortable coming forward if they’ve witnessed or experienced violent behavior. It’s especially helpful for violence prevention, as it could help connect at-risk students to school counselors and/or school psychologists before incidents take place.

5. Block access to violent content

As a school district, you’re legally obligated to implement web filtering tools that prevent access to inappropriate content. That includes violent material, such as graphic videos, images, or instructions about weapons.

With a browser-based solution like ManagedMethods’ Content Filter, you can seamlessly block dangerous websites without hindering the learning experience. It runs in the background, constantly filtering out inappropriate content. Better yet, you’ll know right away when students are searching for certain topics, such as suicide, drugs, or guns. This allows you to jump into action, prevent violence, and protect your entire school community.

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