School Safety: A Growing Concern in Violent Times

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The safety of children and faculty in any school, both public and private, has always been a prevalent issue. The concern has grown exponentially over the last several years as incidents of bullying, and violence perpetrated from those both within and outside the school system, have greatly increased.

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Amateur videos of bullying grace social media platforms, and reports of school shootings and other violent acts pepper the headlines and take center stage on the local news. In 2012, President Barack Obama stated, “This job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.”

With youth’s ages 12-24 more likely to be victims of a violent crime than any other age group, truer words about the growing concern of school safety were never spoken. Several initiatives have been proposed and implemented to help improve school safety as well as educate both school staff and the public on how they can do their part to enable children to grow up without having fear and violence being a part of everyday school life.

School Shootings

Of all the incidences of violence that might occur in a public or private school, none gain as much national and international recognition as a school shooting that claims the innocent lives of children and teachers. Recorded school shootings date back as far as the mid 1800s, but it was not until 1999, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 15 people and injured 21 others in what became known as the Columbine Massacre, that America really took notice.

Dozens more school shootings followed over the years, all around the country. In 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 students and staff, and wounded 23 more. As the deadliest school shooting in America, it forced the nation to realize just how vulnerable its children really were, and to reexamine its safety policies and procedures regarding gun violence and school safety.

Since then, various training programs have been implemented, and safety drills teaching students what to do if a gunman is reported on the premises have become a part of the curriculum. However, despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Education is working with both the U.S. Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security, proper and effective safety training, and security procedures are still woefully inconsistent throughout the nation’s school system.

Bullying: School Violence of a Different Sort

Fear of a shooting isn’t the only safety concern students face. Bullying, once widely ignored and often considered a simple rite of passage for students, has grown exponentially out of control, sometimes with deadly consequences.

No longer does the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” serve any viable purpose or provide any comfort to those suffering from extreme bullying or acts of student-on-student violence. Not when nearly 3 million crimes are committed at the nation’s schools each year, a good portion of them aggravated assault, rape, robbery and sexual assault.

Technology plays a large role in bullying today. Whereas once incidences of bullying were confined to the classroom or school hallway, they are now broadcast to potentially hundreds and thousands through social media platforms. Additionally, bullying doesn’t start and stop with the school day; it continues on into the night, with social media the platform and weapon of choice for the bullies.

Some incidences of bullying wreak such havoc with a young student’s mind that it can drive them to commit suicide, as it did with Phoebe Prince, a high school student in Massachusetts, and Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University.

The Teacher’s Role in School Safety

A teacher’s main purpose is to teach the nation’s children. They weren’t meant to police the schools or provide security to its students. While training programs may provide some sort of guidance and information that can be utilized to act rationally during a critical incident, the fact of the matter is that the teachers and faculty are just as much at risk as many of the students they are now expected to protect.

But as each state has implemented (or not implemented) its own security training, procedures and programs, some are arguably much more adequate than others, while some schools remain lacking in any effective security at all. A lack of understanding of the American school system, as well as inaccurate assessments of safety and a lack of resources to provide proper safety equipment or training are quite often to blame.

It can also be argued that parenting, whether bad parenting or not enough proper parenting, can be partly to blame for many incidents of school violence. Perhaps Dylan and Eric would not have committed such a heinous act against their classmates had their parents been more involved in their lives. Perhaps those who engage in acts of bullying would not do so if their parents taught them to respect their fellow students instead of defending their bad behavior. Indeed, parenting plays a key role in how young children develop their mindset, and a lack of proper parenting, parental involvement and harsh discipline can all result in aggressive behavior in children.

So while the nation works to find a solution to keep students and faculty safe from outside threats, it must also work to keep the students safe from the enemy within as well.