Why school safety is a concern in the United States

American K-12 public school students deserve safe campuses where they can learn, interact with peers, and develop their skills unhindered by internal or external threats. Unfortunately, school safety is a growing concern in the United States. Each year there are more and more incidents of violence and harmful behavior that directly impacts students’ ability to feel secure at school and learn effectively.

Let’s take a closer look at school safety, why it needs to be taken seriously, and steps your district can take to help protect students from physical, emotional, and digital harm.

Unpacking school safety: What’s the cause for concern?

According to a recent Gallup poll, U.S. parents’ concern for their children’s physical safety at school is the highest it’s been in over two decades. Currently, 44% of U.S. parents say they fear for their kid’s personal safety in the classroom — a 10% jump since 2019, which is the last time this question was asked. The data suggest that parental fear hit its peak (55%) in April 1999, the day after the Columbine High School shooting.

Moreover, educators themselves feel less safe than they used to, according to EdWeek Research. Their recent survey found that 40% of teachers are more worried about safety than they were five years ago.

So, what’s causing this notable uptick? EdWeek data suggests that school shootings are a primary factor. Per the survey, 6 in 10 educators say “purposeful mass homicide” is the key reason behind their concern.
Indeed, school shootings are undeniably more prevalent today than in years past.

As per the National Center for Education Statistics, there were a total of 93 school shootings with casualties at public and private elementary and secondary schools during the 2020–21 school year. That’s more school-based gun violence than any other year since data collection began. Moreover, the K-12 School Shooting Database reports a total of 304 school shooting incidents in 2022 — the highest in recorded history. For context, that’s five times the number of school shooting incidents in 2017.

FREE DOWNLOAD! Back To School Safely Guide [based on real stories] LEARN & SECURE >>

Types of school safety concerns

Although gun violence is certainly the most pressing concern, K-12 districts are simultaneously dealing with a swarm of other critical school safety risks — both digitally and physically.

Divided by category, here are some examples of these types of threats:

Physical safety concerns

With physical safety being a top concern, it’s important to recognize that it extends beyond gun violence and bullying, and also includes toxic and criminal behaviors such as:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Physical violence
  • Self-harm

Digital safety concerns

Since the internet became a popular way to communicate, bullying made its way online. Especially today, with the popularity of social media, nearly half (46%) of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 are experiencing some form of cyberbullying. A report from the Pew Research Center found that the top six behaviors reported by those being bullied online are:

  • Offensive name-calling (32%)
  • Spreading false rumors (22%)
  • Receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for (17%)
  • Stalking (15%)
  • Physical threats (10%)
  • Having explicit images shared without their consent (7%)

Other digital safety concerns include:

Victims of school violence and other extreme behaviors can experience or develop a number of ill effects, including physiological distress, permanent physical disability, and long-term physical or mental health complications.

The importance of school safety

First and foremost, school safety and security measures are integral to protecting students from all forms of violence, including internal and external, physical and digital, and self-harm.

A multitude of studies have discerned a connection between mental health and school safety. When students feel unsafe, they are more likely to experience depression and exhibit suicidal behavior. As a result, these challenges can lead to:

  • Poor attendance, course failure, and school dropout
  • Long-term mental health conditions
  • Substance abuse
  • Legal trouble

Addressing safety: Strategies for protecting students

Facilitating a positive, safe, and effective learning environment takes effort from multiple parties, including elected officials, teachers and other staff members, parents, students, and the larger school community.

To ensure a safer school environment, here are a few strategies schools can use to protect their students from physical and digital safety concerns.

1. Promote positivity and a healthy school climate

School-aged children and teens spend a lot of time at school — about a sixth of their waking hours. That’s why it’s important to promote and actively facilitate a positive, healthy climate for students to learn. One way to achieve this is by implementing social emotional learning (SEL).

This type of learning teaches emotional intelligence, helping students to develop self- and social-awareness, self-management, and relationship and decision-making skills.

2. Encourage students to report bullying and other risks

Victims of bullying often suffer in silence, commonly due to factors like fear of retaliation, not being believed, thinking reporting it won’t help, or not knowing how to report it — among lots of other reasons.

Developing a strategy that helps students understand how to report bullying and other warning signs they may notice, and who to report them to can help staff members become aware of and mitigate future risks. Reporting tools that allow students to anonymously submit reports can help alleviate some of the fear and concern they face about asking for help.

FREE DOWNLOAD! Back To School Safely Guide [based on real stories] LEARN & SECURE >>

3. Help students access additional resources

Mental health is a big deal, and helping students access additional resources can make a big impact when it comes to school safety, especially self-harm. For example, schools can provide suicide prevention training to help students understand the importance of mental health, how to recognize warning signs in others, and how to ask for help.

4. Implement a clearly defined school violence policy

Having policies in place that strictly prohibit violence is important. However, of equal importance is providing resources that help educate both students and staff about physical and digital safety. Explicitly prohibiting violence is the first step, but teaching the school community at large about how to recognize and report warning signs can make a huge difference.

Developing a comprehensive school safety plan can help communicate the district’s commitment to student safety.

Use a cloud monitoring tool to uncover safety signals

When it comes to digital safety, there’s a lot to be concerned about. But regarding the content that students are viewing and what they may be searching for. A cloud monitoring tool can help school staff recognize any suspicious or potentially harmful activity as well as identify students that may be at risk for violence or self-harm, based on their online activity.

Further, using a content filter can help restrict access to graphic content that may inspire violence or toxic behaviors in students.

Start your year on the right track with ManagedMethods

Concern about school safety is at its highest point since 1999. As a result, parents, students, and faculty are dealing with increased school violence, bullying, cyberbullying, and other toxic behaviors that directly impact their learning environment and students’ ability to feel safe at school.

Get ahead of school safety risks and access our back-to-school safety technology guide.

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