School Violence

Strategies For Dealing With School Violence

Mass media reports of gun violence in schools can raise serious concerns across entire school districts not affected by the shootings. Parents, teachers and students all find it difficult to comprehend why and how these incidents occur and strive to figure out how they can be prevented. School principals and administrators can remind students, staff, and parents alike that schools are usually very safe places. Like flight attendants on an airplane, however, they can also announce and review proactively the extensive safety precautions taken by their school and update everyone about related resources that are available.

Action Items to Improve School Safety

Administrators including superintendents, can take the following steps to fine tune their security systems, demonstrate that their schools are safe environments and improve the sense of security parents and students experience throughout the school community:

  • Send or mail a letter home to parents that outlines specific school safety policies including the school notification system, school safety alerts, school emergency alerts and crisis prevention efforts. Explain that fewer than one percent of violent deaths occur on school property
  • Provide a reassuring adult presence by personally welcoming students and visiting parents either outside in good weather or in the hallways. Busy teachers are not often available to do this.
  • Distribute a press release to local media outlets describing your work to keep school property safe, through clear policies about abusive or dangerous behavior, positive interventions and crisis preparedness.
  • Launch annual multidisciplinary reviews of all school safety policies and procedures to ensure that new threats are adequately dealt with in school crisis and emergency response procedures. Involve teaching, nursing, counseling, cafeteria, gym and custodial staff in the review process.
  • Assess school district-wide communications systems and their interfaces with first responders. This should include the school notification system that determines how and where parents will be informed in an emergency of any kind.
  • Contact community resources (police department, fire department, local hospitals and urgent care facilities etc.) to review emergency response plans and to discuss any gaps in coverage or other needs for responding to school violence
  • Offer crisis training, including active shooter safety and emergency medical training (e.g. CPR) for staff.
  • Publicize violence prevention programs being taught at school. Highlight efforts to teach students about alternatives to violence, including peaceful conflict resolution and healthy personal interaction skills. Provide details of specific initiatives such as trained staff intervention techniques, bully proofing, and other positive behavioral reinforcement.

Administrators should emphasize the importance of maintaining a school community based on relationships of trust and respect among adults and students. When all students understand expectations about appropriate conduct, and get the behavioral guidance and mental health support they need, they will feel connected and respected at school.

The following are some more specific options for creating a safe and caring school environment:

Protecting Physical Safety on School Grounds

  • Limit access to school buildings. Choose and clearly designate a single entrance with all other access points locked to the outside.
  • Assign monitors to patrol the school parking lot and grounds and report on people both coming and going from the property.
  • Require staff to monitor and supervise common areas such as hallways, gymnasiums bathrooms, cafeterias, and playgrounds.
  • Deploy school violencne resource officers and/or security guards to patrol school grounds.
  • Require guests to report to the main office, sign in, and wear name badges; staff members should promptly report any suspicious activity and even unfamiliar persons to the office.
  • Install and operate security equipment such as metal detectors, video cameras and door alarm systems.

Crisis Response & Emergency Preparedness Training

  • Review crisis and emergency plans on a regular basis, e.g. each year or semester.
  • Schedule annual training and simulation drills for school safety alerts that will be activated for intruders, weather and fire emergencies. Mandate participation by all staff members.
  • Ensure that all teachers and other staff know how to respond to student inquiries about safety procedures, and the best practices for supporting them following a crisis, such as responding to school violence that happens nearby or anywhere.
  • Establish risk-assessment procedures and evaluate any specific ongoing threats

Community Outreach & Relationship Building

  • Partnerships between schools and community organizations can extend the zone of safety for students beyond school property. These may include parent neighborhood volunteers, the local police precinct and Community Watch programs.
  • Relationships with community groups can be nurtured by outreach like invitations to speak and/or answer questions at PTA meeting.

Proactive Behavioral & Communications Systems

  • Adopt and consistently enforce clear behavioral expectations for students. Provide counseling and support, conduct positive interventions, offer psychological and counseling services or referrals, and violence prevention programs such as bully-proofing, social skills coaching and conflict mediation.
  • Establish a comprehensive school notification system for alerts and emergencies
  • Promote universal compliance with school rules, and encourage students to report potential problems to school officials, and push back on peer pressures to do anything that violates school rules or just feels wrong.

Participation by Students

  • Inspire students to embrace their own personal responsibility for helping to keep school safe. Students can participate in active safety measures on a practical everyday level. They are often keenly aware of the remote areas of their school that can conceal dangerous conditions or behavior.
  • Establish reporting systems such as texting hotlines and suggestion boxes that students can use anonymously. Also launch “See/hear something, say something” and “Tell an adult” campaigns that make it popular to speak up on behalf of everyone’s safety.

How to Listen to and Speak with Students About Their Safety

Listen to students in casual conversation and during Q & A sessions during assemblies. Acknowledge their feelings of concern when responding to school violence. Let their questions and grade level determine what information to divulge and how much to share. Embrace opportunities to talk when kids are ready. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your own feelings related to violence, but be sure to highlight the positive things that everyone can do keep school safe. Children and teenagers might not share their deep seated feelings very easily. Be vigilant for clues that students may want to talk, such as when they hover around while you as a teacher or parent are busy. When their concerns are difficult or bothersome to articulate, many children turn to creative expression such as writing, singing or playing music, or art projects as an outlet. Younger children may need suggestions or direction for creative activities that help them express their feelings.

Watch for signs that a student might be distressed about violence in schools, e.g., changes in behavior, sleep problems, acting out, or new problems with academics. Limit media exposure (both TV and Internet) to reports of disturbing violent events, and be careful what you say to other adults, in person or on the phone, that may be overheard by children.

Here are some recommended points to make when speaking with students:

    Your school is a safe place to learn and grow. School staff works with our local police officers, firefighters, and emergency responders to keep you safe every day.

  • Your school is safe because it has automatic systems for school safety alerts and active shooter safety procedures that your teachers know to follow
  • We each play a part in keeping our school safe. It helps when kids pay attention to their surroundings. So let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried or frightened.
  • There is a difference between reporting something that’s troubling to you, and tattling on or ‘dissing’ another kid. You should share important things you know that may prevent people from getting hurt, — by telling a parent, teacher or other adult what you know or things you overheard in the hallway.
  • There’s no guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen. But we must understand the difference between the slight possibility of violence in school and the likelihood that it will actually happen and affect us.
  • Random or even targeted violence is hard for us to understand. Continuing the regular activities you enjoy, like sports and games with friends and family, will help us all feel comfortable and secure. That makes us less anxious about tragic events that do occur.
  • Once in awhile some people do bad things that hurt others. They may be angry about bad stuff that happened to them, or they could be affected by drugs or alcohol, or suffering from a mental illness. Most all adults, including parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, counselors, religious leaders work very hard to help people with problems and prevent them from acting violently. All of us must learn where to get help if we feel really upset or angry or we know somebody else who does.
  • Always steer clear of guns and other weapons. Tell a trusted adult right away if you know someone has a gun. It’s dangerous for angry and violent people of any age to get access to a gun.
  • Violence never solves anyone’s problems. Students can contribute to a healthy school environment by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning how to resolve conflicts, and getting help from a responsible adult if they or a kid they know is showing anger, depression, or struggling with overly emotional situations.