There have been at least eight school shootings in 2019 resulting in injuries or deaths, according to Education Week’s 2019 School Shooting Tracker. In 2018, there were 24 school shootings in the United States that resulted in the loss of 35 lives and injury to 79 people.
Students, teachers and parents are concerned about shootings and school safety threats, but many different theories exist on how to address this growing problem. In the 2018 PDK poll, where over 1,000 people in the U.S. answered questions about education topics, parents said they were not supportive of arming teachers. While most parents supported the idea of mental health screenings, “there is no screening that will identify students who are likely to become school shooters,” Kathleen Minke writes for PDK International. Beyond school shootings, there are other school safety threats facing students. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, an estimated 160,000 kids skip school each day for fear of being bullied Across the world, around one-third of students aged 13-15 are involved in physical altercations, UNICEF reports.
The threats facing school safety are real and complex. But teachers and administrative officials are developing new methods to combat these problems.
School violence and school shooting statistics
The devastating effects of school shootings and violence have been covered extensively, but teachers and administrators need to be aware of their real severity. Below are statistics on school shootings from the U.S. Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), as well as facts and figures about school violence.
School shooting statistics
- There were more school shooting incidents in 2018 than any other year in history [CHDS]
There were 97 reported incidents in 2018, far exceeding the previous most violent year in 2006 with 59.
- Shooters were most often students at the school [CHDS]
There were 702 incidents since 1970 where the shooter was a student at the school.
- Shooting incidents frequently take place early in the school day [CHDS]
Out of 1,362 incidents since 1970, the largest number of shootings (291) took place in the morning.
- In 890 of the reported incidents, the shooter targeted specific victims [CHDS]
According to the data, perpetrators behind most school shooting incidents targeted individuals they knew.
Bullying and school violence statistics
- Both bullies and victims more frequently resorted to non-suicidal self injury (NSSI) [Psychiatry Research]
According to an article in Psychiatry Research, “being rejected by peers amplifies the probability, for both victims and bullies, of using NSSI at least once.”
- LGBTQ individuals and students with disabilities were at-risk populations for increased bullying [Center for Urban Education Success]
Students with disabilities were reported to be more prone to bullying and being victimized by bullying acts. Bullied LGBTQ students suffered a lack of intervention by administrators or teachers on their behalves.
- 5 percent of high school students responded they had been in a physical fight on campus one or more times in the past year [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)]
The CDC reported that across the country, approximately 7 percent of students said they had missed school for at least one day due to concerns over their safety.
Nonviolent school crime and other disruption
In addition to school shootings and other violent threats, teachers and administrators must also grapple with nonviolent crimes and events that can disrupt educational activities.
In 2017, 10.5 percent of all hate crimes took place at schools and colleges, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Bureau’s professionals define a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias.” For schools, a hate crime could include painting a swastika onto a wall to make students of a Jewish background feel intimidated, threatened or uncomfortable, or posting notes on a bulletin board with messaging that attacks or makes fun of a peer’s cultural background.
Additionally, hateful behavior and attacks can happen to students off school grounds. Students can commit hate crimes through cyberbullying efforts such as sending an offensive message or image on social media that insults race or heritage. From the Teaching Tolerance report, Responding to Hate and Bias at School:
Everyday acts of intolerance manifest themselves in many ways: name calling; slurs; sexual harassment; casual putdowns regarding race, ethnicity, gender, size, abilities, perceived sexual orientation or gender identification. The bias might come in the form of clothing — certain colors or styles — or music or symbols associated with hate groups. Growing intolerance can also be found online, posted on Tumblr or tweeted on Twitter. It might be blatant, such as a noose left hanging from an African-American student’s locker. Or it might be subtle, a hushed rumor texted like a whisper, phone to phone, person to person.
School safety tips and resources
Teachers and administrators face significant challenges when addressing the multiple threats to school safety. However, there are actions they can take to help in their efforts to prevent school violence.
Be observant of potential threats
The report titled Responding to Hate and Bias at School stresses the importance of observing students’ behavior in-and-out of the classroom to mitigate potential threats. Teachers and administrators are tasked to pay close attention to the tone and phrasing of student messaging and communications about school safety. For example, education officials should make note of students using certain words in a derogatory manner, chanting phrases that are hurtful and degrading at games, or whether the school’s methods of rewarding achievement leave others feeling left out.
Teachers and administrators can also monitor their own behavior so they do not set a bad example or perpetuate existing threats. This includes not joking about students when they aren’t present, not making bigoted statements about certain students or groups, and making sure that behavior extends to the school community. The report suggests that educators and administrators communicate with bus drivers as they observe students whose behavior may be dangerous or pose threats.
“Speak regularly with bus drivers about what they are seeing and hearing on the buses. Occasionally assign staff to ride buses (or ride the bus yourself ) to monitor behavior and to reinforce to students that the climate of tolerance includes not just to the school grounds, but to the bus as well,” says the report.
Understand the different types of threats
The National Association of School Psychologists reports four types of violent school safety threats:
- “Direct threat — identifies a specific act against a specific target delivered in a straightforward, clear and explicit manner.” This includes a student verbally telling a teacher they are going to shoot and kill a specific student.
- “Indirect threat — tends to be vague, unclear and ambiguous. Violence is implied, but the threat is phrased tentatively, and suggests a violent act could occur.” This includes a student ominously saying to a teacher a phrase like, “I really wish a shooting would happen at this school.”
- “Veiled threat — is one that strongly implies but does not explicitly threaten violence.” An example may be a student saying, “You’ll be sorry for what you did to me.”
- “Conditional threat — is often seen in extortion cases. It warns that a violent act will happen unless certain demands or terms are met.” This can include a student saying they will bomb the school unless their teacher gives them a passing grade.
The National Association of School Psychologists also notes different levels of school safety threats that a teacher or administrator may encounter:
- Low-level threats — exhibit a minimal risk to a victim and the public. They often lack details or are implausible to carry out. This could include threatening to slash the tires of every instructor’s vehicle in the parking lot during lunchtime, even though there are security guards who would likely catch the perpetrator.
- Medium-level threats — are more plausible but not necessarily achievable. They suggest that the perpetrator has reasoned out certain aspects of the threat but it still isn’t entirely detailed, with the perpetrator using statements like, “I’m not joking!” to suggest the threat isn’t a farce. This could include a student indicating they know the neighborhood where another student lives and threatening to burn down their house if they aren’t taken seriously.
- High-level threats — are direct and plausible. They contain a certain amount of information and reflect a level of planning that poses imminent danger. This could be a student claiming that they are going to kill an instructor, that they know where the instructor lives and what times of day they’ll be alone.
Every threat is different, and teachers and administrators should respond appropriately. Solutions that work for addressing one threat — such as having the potentially dangerous student attend mental health counseling for a low-level threat — may not be the best method for addressing medium- or high-level threats. A key strategy is to have a strong threat assessment team in place, where a group of trusted educators and administrators from diverse backgrounds provides different perspectives and opinions on threats and helps schools prevent instances of violence.
A report from the United States Secret Service titled Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model says the first step in creating a targeted violence prevention plan involves establishing a multidisciplinary threat assessment team. “The team will receive reports concerning students and situations, gather additional information, assess the risk posed to the school community, and develop intervention and management strategies to mitigate any risk of harm.”
American Society for the Positive Care of Children, “Bullying Definition, Statistics & Risk Factors”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About School Violence”
Education Week, “School Shootings in 2018: How Many and Where”
Education Week, “School Shootings This Year: How Many and Where”
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “FBI Releases 2017 Hate Crime Statistics”
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Hate Crimes”
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of School Psychologists, “Threat Assessment: Predicting and Preventing School Violence”
National Center for Education Statistics, “Student Reports of Bullying”
PDK Poll, “Keeping kids safe at school”
Teaching Tolerance, “Responding to Hate and Bias at School”
U.S. Center for Homeland Defense and Security
U.S. Center for Homeland Defense and Security, “K-12 School Shooting Database”
UNICEF, “#ENDViolence in schools”
United States Secret Service, “Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model”