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In the last few years, a great deal of media attention has been focused on school shootings. This has led many teens to become concerned about their own safety, wondering whether such tragic violence could happen in their schools.
However, in terms of risk for homicide, schools are about the safest place for teens-safer than their homes or their neighborhoods-and violent deaths at schools or school events are extremely rare. Less than 1% of the murders of children and teens in the United States are school-related, and there is no evidence that school-related homicides are on the rise. You are much more likely to be struck by lightening than to be killed at your school. In the 1998-99 school year, a total of 34 children and teens were murdered on school property, at a school event, or on their way to and from school.1
Although incidents like the one in Littleton, Colorado, tend to get all the attention, if you've ever been ruthlessly teased, laughed at, shoved around, or bullied at school, you know there's more to violence in school than mass shootings. In fact, school violence includes a range of activities, including bullying, threatening remarks, physical fights, assaults with or without weapons, and gang violence.
In a 1999 national survey of high school students:2
- 7% of students (and 11% of male students) said they had carried a weapon to school in the last month;
- 8% of students said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club on school property in the past year;
- 14% said that they had been involved in a physical fight on school property in the past year; and
- 5% said they had missed at least one day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe at school or when traveling to or from school.
Additionally, students tell us that bullying continues to be a serious problem, particularly in middle schools. In 1999, about 10% of students in grades 6 and 7 reported being bullied, compared with about 5% of students in grades 8 and 9 and about 2% in grades 10 through 12.3
In the last few years, violent crimes at school have declined, and fewer students are carrying weapons to school or getting into fights. Between 1993 and 1999, the number of students reporting carrying a weapon to school in the previous month dropped by over 40%. The number of students who reported being involved in a physical fight on school property during the past year dropped by over 12%.4
As a result, many students are beginning to feel safer. Between 1995 and 1999, the number of students who avoided one or more places at school out of fear for their safety decreased by over 40%.5 Students were also much less likely to fear being attacked or harmed at school or while traveling to and from school.6
It is important to remember, however, that some schools are much safer than others. For a few schools, serious violent crime continues to be a very real problem.
Start with yourself.
Make a commitment not to contribute to violence in any way. Do not bully, tease, or spread negative gossip about others. Respect others and value differences. Try to broaden your social circle to include others who are different from you.
Learn about ways to resolve arguments and fights without violence, and encourage your friends to do the same. Many schools, churches, and after-school programs offer training in conflict resolution skills.
Do not carry a gun.
Teens sometimes carry guns because they are afraid, but carrying a gun will not make you safer.
Guns often escalate conflicts and increase the chances that you will be seriously harmed. You also run the risk that the gun may be turned on you or that an innocent person will be hurt. And, you may do something in a moment of fear or anger that you will regret for the rest of your life.
Finally, it is illegal for a teen to carry a handgun, and it can lead to criminal charges and arrest.
How can you protect yourself without a gun?
If someone is threatening you and you feel that you are in serious danger, do not take matters into your own hands. Find an adult you can trust and discuss your fears, or contact school administrators or the police. Take precautions for your safety, such as avoiding being alone and staying with a group of friends if possible.
If you know someone is carrying a gun or planning to harm someone else - report him or her. Most of us have learned from an early age that it is wrong to tattle, but in some instances it is the most courageous thing you can do. Tell a trusted adult, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal or parent. If you are afraid and believe that telling will put you in danger or lead to retaliation, find a way to anonymously contact the authorities.
Take the initiative to make your school safer.
Join an existing group that is promoting non-violence at your school, or launch your own effort. Several of the online resources listed at the end of this document can help you get started. You might want to consider some of the following ideas:7
- Start a conflict resolution program to teach students to handle conflict peacefully.
- Start a drama troupe to develop productions with non-violence themes, such as peaceful conflict resolution, respect for diversity, and tolerance.
- Launch a school crime watch program.
- Plan a non-violence rally or dance, and encourage other students to make a commitment to avoiding conflicts.
- Start a "peace pledge" campaign, in which students promise to settle disagreements without violence, to reject weapons, and to work toward a safe school for all.
- Set up an anonymous hot line so students can share their concerns if they feel threatened or know of someone who may become violent.
- Set up a forum for students to talk about how school violence is affecting their lives and to brainstorm about possible solutions.
School Safety & Security Directory
Our directory of school safety and violence resources, plus a buyers guide.
ERIC/CASS Bullying in Schools Virtual Library
If you or a friend is being bullied, this site provides links to numerous resources with information about bullying, including strategies for preventing bullying and tips for youth about how to respond to bullies.
Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools
This bulletin, from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention examines the climate of violence that threatens our schools and describes steps that concerned citizens are taking to restore security and calm.
Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000
A joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics, the report provides the most current detailed statistical information to inform the Nation on the nature of crime in schools.
2000 Annual Report on School Safety
The joint Report, prepared by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, examines data on homicides and suicides at school, injuries at school, crimes against students, crimes against teachers, weapons at school, the consequences of bringing firearms to school, and student perceptions of school safety. The Report highlights effective programs, and lists resources for more information about school safety and crime issues.
Youth In Action Bulletins
These Bulletins developed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provide guidance for teen leaders who are developing their own crime prevention efforts. Relevant titles include:
- Arts and Performances for Prevention
This Bulletin shows how you can use arts and performances to convey a non-violence message and provides step-by-step instructions to help you get started and to keep you going.
- Stand Up and Start a Youth Crime Watch
This Bulletin provides information for students on how to start a school crime watch. A school crime watch helps youth watch out for each other to make the entire school area safer and more enjoyable. The school crime watch is a student-led effort that helps youth take a share of responsibility for their school community.
- Want to Resolve a Dispute? Try Mediation
This Bulletin shows how you can start and carry out a youth mediation program in your school or community that will help prevent violence.
- Reported in 2000 Annual Report on School Safety, pp 9-11. SOURCE: The School-Associated Violent Deaths Study, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance - United States, 1999. In: CDC Surveillance Summaries, June 9, 2000. MMWR 2000;49(No. SS-5), pp. 7-8.
- Reported in Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000, p. 13. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, January-June, 1999.
- Calculated from data reported in Fact Sheet: Youth Risk Behavior Trends, 1991-1999, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Calculated from data reported in Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000, p. 32. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, January-June, 1995, and 1999.
- Reported in Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000, pp. 30-31. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, January-June, 1995, and 1999.
- For more information about these ideas and further suggestions, visit the following websites:
Reprinted with permission from National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center.
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