Safe at School? (NCEA)

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The North Carolina Education Alliance (the education arm of the John Locke Foundation) has this column on school safety, inked by the Alliance’s Kristen Blair. On the heels of my six-step plan for attacking school violence in GCS, this column is timely.

Safe at School?

By Kristen Blair

January 24, 2008

Recent news reports are likely to arouse parental concern about school safety. On Tuesday, four students were shot just after their dismissal from Ballou High in Washington, D.C. Closer to home, a fifth-grader in Charlotte, North Carolina brought a loaded .32-caliber revolver to Sterling Elementary last week, ostensibly to impress classmates. According to the Charlotte Observer, this is the 11th time this year that a gun has been found on a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school (CMS) campus.

Fortunately, D.C.’s shooting was not fatal, and the CMS incident was quickly resolved. But school-based violence does, at times, exact crushing casualties. Horrific school shootings, including those at Columbine High in 1999 and Virginia Tech last April, have seared our national consciousness, awakening a palpable awareness of the vulnerability of students, teachers, and other school personnel.

Across the nation, officials have responded quickly to secure school campuses and reassure parents. And in spite of high-profile shootings, most students don’t put their lives in jeopardy when they walk through school doors. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released findings from a new study, revealing a decline in “single-victim school-associated violent deaths.” Rates for multiple-victim homicides remain stable.

But while homicides on school grounds are rare, lesser crimes are not. According to the national Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2007, roughly one out of every 12 high school students was threatened or injured with a weapon in 2005. Nationally, 86 percent of public schools reported “at least one violent crime, theft, or other crime” during the 2005-06 school year.

Based on state data, North Carolina schools fare considerably better. According to the 2006-07 Annual Report on School Crime and Violence (PDF), released last month, 40 percent of state schools reported no acts of crime or violence last year. While the total number of criminal or violent acts statewide did increase slightly (0.5 percent), higher student enrollments caused the overall rate to go down 1.6 percent.

Are national and state statistics always accurate? Not necessarily: underreporting of violent events remains a real problem, particularly when it comes to designating schools as “persistently dangerous.” Since passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law, states have been required to report consistently unsafe schools. But many states have balked at applying the label. According to a recent Washington Post article, of 94,000 schools nationwide, only 46 were deemed persistently dangerous last year. The Post highlights one Los Angeles high school with 289 cases of battery, two sex offenses, one robbery, and two assaults with a deadly weapon, all in one year. Amazingly, the school did not meet the state’s persistently dangerous definition. In fact, not a single California school did. Neither did any North Carolina schools.

How can we crack down on school violence? Straightforward, candid reporting is a must. After all, when it comes to school violence, what we don’t know can hurt us. Tough sanctions for student offenders are also in order. CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman is taking steps to crack down on wayward pupils, by pushing for more student expulsions.

School officials also need to encourage a culture of civility and enforce a zero-tolerance attitude toward bullying, discrimination, and harassment. But let’s be clear: bullying policies should not be used as a Trojan horse for the incursion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” issues into classrooms. Bullying policies that explicitly grant legal protections based on sexual orientation virtually guarantee that instructive discussions on these issues will become commonplace in schools, even with very young children.

In the end, there’s a lot schools can and must do to prevent violence. Ultimately, though, the proverbial buck stops with parents when it comes to monitoring warning signs in troubled children. Vigilance, coupled with a warm, close parent-child connection, is the best insurance policy against future acts of aggression. Are we up to the task?


E.C. 🙂


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