America’s Schools – Are They Safe?

Clearly one of the most critical issues facing our public schools today is that of student safety. Incidents such as those at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 and the more recent shootings at Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minnesota, cause many parents to openly question the safety of their children while in the public school setting.

Violent incidents such as these make it clear that crisis plans incorporating code phrases and lock down practices are no longer simply confined to big, inner city schools. Within most schools today, such plans have been formulated and rehearsed so as to prepare students and staff for the possibility of an emergency. In addition, requisite school equipment for administrators now includes a gym bag stocked with a bullhorn, a cell phone, walkie-talkies, building floor plans and up to date student and staff lists.

These shootings cause many communities to consider the installation of a metal detector at the main entrance of their school building. Other considerations that come to mind include bringing in drug and bomb sniffing dogs on a semi-regular basis to check student lockers even as other communities have already hired a police officer to maintain a presence at the campus and in the building hallways.

These horrific shootings, along with the need for such emergency plans, have caused the public to ask, “Are our schools safe?” The answer to that question is actually a resounding yes. Statistically speaking, the safest place in our society today for school age children is in school.

The FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System analyzes data reported to law enforcement agencies across the country. When considering seriously violent acts such as murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and robbery, juvenile victimization is greatest between 3 PM and 9 PM, after the typical school day has ended. Moreover, 43 percent of violent acts by juveniles occur on non-school days and another 40 percent of those acts of violence occur between 3 PM and 6 AM. Only one in six violent acts can be attributed to the hours of 6 AM through 3 PM.

An even more recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics lists the percentage of such crimes against juveniles at just eight percent. This reduces the number of violent acts occurring during school hours to less than one in twelve. For those of us concerned about our children it is important that we understand the true picture. Simply stated, our schools are statistically
safer than our local neighborhood.

Yet that is not enough, nor should it be. All of us want our schools to be as safe as they can possibly be. The violence witnessed sporadically in our schools may only be a tiny snippet of the violence witnessed in our country. But we can not be satisfied if our schools are simply a microcosm of our society. Schools should be a reflection of what is possible, of what can be a better life.

To create such schools we will need the crisis plans. We may also need the metal detectors and the police officers. We will most certainly need to continuously work on creating a school environment where the expectation is one of mutual respect for all.

Though our schools may not seem to be as safe as they were 20 years ago they are still at the bottom end of the violence spectrum. Our public schools do reflect the increase in violence within our society, but public school buildings are still far safer for our youth than the corner hangout.

To truly extinguish violent behavior from our schools is a monumental task, one that will not be easily achieved. In the meantime, it is worth repeating what was noted earlier.

The safest place for kids today is in school.

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