Safe and Secure Schools

Administrators, teachers, parents and the public… What do they have in common? Their goal: to ensure that our schools are safe and secure places for our children to learn and play and grow.

Violence in schools is still making the news, yet our response to these reports varies. Some say that the number one concern of parents is the safety of their students at school. Others say that media coverage and public concern over violence in our schools are blown out of proportion. So whom do we believe? The numbers show that students are less likely to be victimized at school than almost anywhere else. The world away from school is often much more dangerous for students than their time spent in school.

According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety 1999, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, students are“three times more likely to be victims of non-fatal serious violent crime away from school than at school.” Add to that the fact that criminal victimization rates in schools did not rise in the 1990s, and data show that victimization rates have actually declined. Of that "victimization," theft of a student’s property was much more likely to be the case than a physical attack. This type of victimization may seem less harmful, but if this is true, then why do students seem to feel less safe at school now than just a few years ago?

The effect of a safe school goes far beyond the physical. Heery’s "Millennium School 2000" report states,“Problems such as theft, the prevalence of weapons, and the easy access strangers have to most campuses create an atmosphere that affects students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. Indeed, 93 percent of respondents report that school safety has a strong impact on academic performance, 90 percent feel that it has a strong impact on teacher retention, 88 percent say that it has a strong effect on student self-esteem, and 80 percent believe that it has a strong effect on student test scores.”

Transforming schools into a safe and secure learning environment is not an easy job. Districts, charged with educating all students, must be prepared to handle the diverse needs of those students. When students come into a school, they bring with them their family experiences and their neighborhood environment. Community violence, including drugs and gang activities, often spills over into our schools. And while most school officials recognize the potential threats to the safety of children attending school and school-related activities, some do not – convinced that crime "can’t happen here." Unfortunately, recent incidents in the news have shown us that it can, and has, happened here.

A 1997 report by Daniel J. Flannery, Kent State University and University Hospitals of Cleveland, entitledSchool Violence: Risk, Preventive Intervention and Policy, offers the following school factors as conducive to disorder, crime and violence: (a) overcrowding; (b) high student/teacher ratios; (c) insufficient curricular/course relevance; combined with (d) low student academic achievement and apathy, which give rise to disruptiveness; (e) poor facility design and portable buildings that both increase isolation and hamper internal communication; and (f) adult failure to act because cognizant leaders improperly identify potentially inflammatory situations, are reluctant to admit a problem, believe nothing will work, or simply do not know what to do.

There is no single cause or single effect when it comes to safety and security. This means that there is no one answer or pre-packaged solution. Just like the students they house, schools are different and require individualized approaches to their security needs. Safety and security are not "one size fits all." To achieve their goal, a school’s security strategy will likely include a combination of personnel, procedures and technologies. The information provided in this special supplement will assist you in your efforts to find a plan that works for you.