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School Safety

"Theft, violent crime and student homicides have declined in American schools (with children in grades K-12) over the past decade. A growing body of evidence shows that violence prevention programs can help young people learn other ways to resolve conflict and express their feelings in a safer way. Schools and communities can work together to make these programs available and prevent violence before it occurs." (School Crime, National Institute of Justice, 2010).


Our nation's schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning, free of crime and violence. Any instance of crime or violence at school not only affects the individuals involved, but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community (as provided in Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics/U.S. Department of Education, 2013).

In the wake of several high-profile shootings at schools in the United States, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education embarked on a collaborative endeavor to study incidents of planned (or targeted) violence in our nation's schools. The study, termed the Safe School Initiative (SSI), examined several issues, most notably whether past school-based attacks were planned, and what could be done to prevent future attacks. Key findings of the SSI included:

  • Incidents of targeted violence at schools rarely were sudden impulsive acts.
  • Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
  • There was no useful or accurate profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
  • Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover many had considered or attempted suicide.
  • Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack.
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
  • Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement interventions.
  • In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
  • Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
  • Prior to the incidents, other people knew about the attacker's idea and/or plan to attack.

Further information about the SSI findings is available in the report, Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent A Targeted Attack (U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education, 2008).

Public schools use a variety of practices and procedures intended to promote the safety of students and staff. Certain practices, such as locked or monitored doors or gates, are intended to limit or control access to school campuses, while others, such as metal detectors, security cameras, and drug sweeps, are intended to monitor or restrict student and visitor behavior on campus (Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011, Bureau of Justice Statistics/U.S. Department of Education, 2012).

The U.S. Department of Education has identified fundamental qualities of a safe and responsible school and presented them in Safeguarding Our Children: An Action Guide:

  • The school has strong leadership, caring faculty, family and community involvement that includes law enforcement officials and representatives of community-based organizations, and student participation in the design of programs and policies.
  • The physical environment of the school is safe and schoolwide policies are in place to promote and support responsible behaviors.
  • Prevention and intervention programs are sustained, coordinated, and comprehensive.
  • Interventions are based on careful assessment of student needs.
  • Evidence-based approaches are used.
  • Staff are provided with training and support to help them implement programs and approaches.
  • Interventions are monitored and evaluations are conducted to ensure that the programs are meeting measurable goals and objectives.
  • Schools that incorporate these characteristics will achieve improved academics, reduced disciplinary referrals and suspensions, greater staff morale, and enhanced safety.

This topical resource on School Safety contains the following information:

Facts and Figures – Includes the latest information and statistics.
Legislation – A sample of links to online Federal and State legislation and testimony.
Publications – A sample of available resources.
Programs – Examples of State and local programs and initiatives available online.
Training and Technical Assistance – A sample of training and technical assistance opportunities available through nationally recognized agencies and associations.
Grants and Funding – Links to Federal funding opportunities.
Related Resources – Examples of nationally recognized agencies and organizations that provide services or information.

Links from the NCJRS Web site to non-Federal sites do not constitute an endorsement by NCJRS or its sponsors. NCJRS is not responsible for the content or privacy policy of any off-site pages that are referenced, nor does NCJRS guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or correct sequencing of information. NCJRS is also not responsible for the use of, or results obtained from the use of, the information. It is the responsibility of the user to evaluate the content and usefulness of information obtained from non-Federal sites.