A Snapshot of School Security for Students Today: Are We Making Progress?
At the end of October, the National School Safety Center (NSSC), along with state governors and state school superintendents, commemorated their 35th “America’s Safe Schools Week” with an ongoing awareness campaign to recognize strategic security successes and encourage greater participation by schools in their schools’ safety issues. It was a time to note the state of security and plan for the future.
What is the state of school safety for students, then? According to a recent New York Times article, the report is positive, especially since addressing school security issues has become a top district budget priority in the last few years. “School is one of the safest places for an American child,” the article claims.
The latest federal statistics from the non-profit Safe Havens International note that less than 3% of homicides of school-aged children (ages 5-18) occurred at school between 1992-2015. Most deaths at these ages are unintentional, caused by traffic accidents, drowning and poisoning. Homicide is still a top cause, but these incidents largely occur outside of school. Most homicides and suicides are not associated with the active shooter situations that are so prominent in the news. The bulk of violent incidents take place outside of school property too; scenarios like assault, petty theft, child abduction linked to custody issues and sexual predators occur more commonly at home.
Schools are More Secure Now
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published their comprehensive look at the school security landscape in their Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2017 report published in March, 2018. Here are some of the most pertinent findings, all based on U.S. public schools:
- For the latest data available, the 2014-15 school year, 20 of the 1,168 (1.7%) student homicides and 9 of the 1,785 suicides (.5%) occurred at school.
- 100% of school students aged 12-18 have safety and security measures at their school, including a written code of student conduct, controlled visitor sign-ins and the school staff monitoring hallways.
- 92% of schools in 2014-15 had an active shooter response plan, versus 79% in 2003-04.
- 57% of schools engaged security staff in 2015-16 vs. 42% ten years prior.
- 76% of schools trained teachers and aides on anti-bullying tactics, 48% trained them on detecting early warning signs of violence.
- 81% of schools used video surveillance systems in 2015-16, up from 19% in 1999-2000.
- 94% of public schools controlled access by locking or monitoring doors in 2015-16, up from 75% in 1999-2000.
- 12% of schools in 2015-16 used metal detectors, up from 9% in 1999-2000 and 70% engaged security guards or police officers, up from 54% over that same period.
Since the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, interest in increasing security has risen exponentially, and with every school shooting it spikes again. A 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office tells us that two thirds of schools routinely run active shooter drills. Fortunately, funding at both the state and federal levels for school security has also become more readily available.
The Department of Justice’s Grant Program provides federal money for security measures. The Department of Homeland Security offers a number of state-level grants, and the some states have specific trusts dedicated to enhancing school security. Additionally, student safety advocacy groups have sprung up to support security efforts, and extant groups have increased their efforts, often lobbying for more legislative help.
Schools are becoming more secure with every passing year, as they implement stronger security measures and take advantage of available funding. The focus on educating faculty about mental health has helped the staff intercept would-be attackers. New technologies like real-time response apps, social media scanning tools and networked sensors are also making schools significantly safer.