Essays

Violence In School

.. hools reported at least one serious violent crime, while 8 percent of rural schools and 5 percent of schools located in towns reported any serious violent crime. Eleven percent of schools in urban fringe areas reported a serious violent crime, which was not significantly different from cities. Schools with the highest proportion of minority students were more likely to report crimes than schools with the smallest proportion of minority enrollment. Sixty-eight percent of schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more reported some crime compared with 47 percent of those with less than 5 percent minority enrollment.

Further, schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment were more likely to report serious violent crime than with less than 5 percent minority enrollment (15 percent compared with 6 percent). Schools indicating that they have a policy to report crimes to the public were less likely to report having experienced any crime than those without this policy, but both types of schools were about as likely to report at least one serious crime. Greater police or law enforcement presence, however, was associated with the incidence of serious crime. Schools with police or other law enforcement stationed at the school for 30 or more hours per week were more likely to report having experienced a serious violent crime (38 percent) compared with schools in which police were not stationed or stationed only as needed (6 to 14 percent, respectively). Schools in which principals perceived that general discipline issues were not a serious problem were more likely to report that they had no crime incidents. Sixty percent of public schools in which principals reported no discipline problems or only minor discipline problems reported no crime for the 1996-97 school year.

Thirty-eight percent of those in which school principals reported some moderate discipline problems reported having no crime, and 14 percent of schools with at least one discipline problem considered serious by their principal had no reported crime. Among schools with at least one discipline problem considered serious, 28 percent reported serious crime compared with 3 percent of schools with no discipline problems or minor problems, and 10 percent of those with moderate problems. Frequency of Crime and Violence Most public schools experienced a relatively small number of crimes in 1996-97. While 43 percent reported none of the crimes for which the survey collected data, 37 percent reported 1 to 5 incidents of crime at the school (figure 3). Seven percent of public schools reported having between 6 and 10 separate incidents during the 1996-97 school year, and 12 percent reported more than 10 incidents for that period.

The number of incidents is a factor of the size of schools. Therefore, another measure, the ratio of incidents of crimes, was used to determine the frequency of crime in schools.6 Overall, about 1,000 crimes per 100,000 students were reported in our nation’s public schools (table 9). This included about 950 crimes per 100,000 that were not serious or violent crimes (theft, vandalism, fights or assaults without a weapon) and about 50 serious violent crimes per 100,000 students (rape or sexual battery, robbery, fight with a weapon, suicide). The overall rate of crime differed by school characteristics. Elementary schools reported about 350 crimes per 100,000 students, compared with about 1,625 in middle schools and about 1,800 in high schools. The ratio of serious violent crime was lowest in elementary schools, with 13 violent crimes reported per 100,000 students compared with 93 per 100,000 students in middle schools and 103 per 100,000 students in high schools.

While a lower percentage of small schools reported any serious violent crime compared with medium and large schools, the ratio of serious violent crimes per 100,000 students was lower in medium-sized schools than in large schools. Medium-sized schools reported 38 serious violent crimes per 100,000 students, compared with the 90 serious violent crimes per 100,000 students reported by large schools. Small schools reported 61 serious violent crimes per 100,000 students. City schools reported 95 incidents of serious violence per 100,000 students, compared with 28 serious violent incidents per 100,000 students in towns. City schools, however, were not significantly different from rural or urban fringe schools in this regard. The ratio of serious violent crime was associated with percent minority enrollment.

While the ratio of serious violent crime per 100,000 students was 19 in schools with less than 5 percent minority enrollment, it was 51 per 100,000 students in those schools with 20 to 49 percent minority students, and 96 per 100,000 in schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment. Footnote: [6] It should be noted that the ratio of incidents of crimes was calculated from the number of incidents reported by public schools per 100,000 public school students and does not represent student-reported victimization rates. Frequency of Specific Crimes For every 100,000 public school students, 26 attacks or fights with a weapon, 17 robberies, and 10 rapes occurred at school (table 10). These represented the serious violent crimes for which the survey collected data. More frequently reported were the less serious or nonviolent crimes including 444 attacks or fights without a weapon, 274 incidents of theft or larceny, and 234 incidents of vandalism per 100,000 students in public schools.

Elementary schools, which reported proportionately fewer incidents of serious violent crime in general, reported lower rates of both physical attacks or fights in which weapons were used and rape or other type of sexual battery than middle and high schools. Differences between elementary schools and high schools were also found in the rate at which robbery was reported, although no difference was found between elementary and middle schools for this crime. Physical attacks or fights in which weapons were used were almost 7 times more frequent in middle and high schools than in elementary schools. While there were 7 physical attacks or fights with a weapon per 100,000 students in elementary schools, the rate was 49 per 100,00 middle school students and 46 per 100,000 high school students. Rapes or other types of sexual battery were reported in middle and high schools at about the same rate, with 17 per 100,000 students in middle schools and 18 per 100,000 in high schools, as compared to the 3 rapes or other type of sexual battery per 100,000 students reported in elementary schools.

Of the less serious or nonviolent crimes (vandalism, physical attacks or fights without a weapon, and theft or larceny), the ratio at which all three crimes occurred was more frequent in middle and high schools than in elementary schools. Physical attacks or fights without a weapon were the number one crime in both middle schools and high schools, followed by theft and vandalism. Principals’ Perceptions of Discipline Issues in Their Schools Principals were asked to report the extent to which specific discipline issues were a problem in their schools during the 1996-97 school year so that the relationship between discipline and crime could be examined. Additionally, data were available on this topic from a 1991 survey which could be used for comparisons. Overall, principals generally perceived these discipline issues in their schools as no more than minor problems (43 percent) or moderate problems (41 percent; figure 4).

Sixteen percent of public school principals, however, perceived at least one discipline issue as a serious problem. During the 1996-97 school year, student tardiness (40 percent), student absenteeism or class cutting (25 percent), and physical conflicts among students (21 percent) were the three discipline issues most often cited by public school principals as serious or moderate problems in their schools (derived from table 11). Public school principals were much less likely (0 to 2 percent) to indicate that teacher alcohol or drug use, physical abuse of teachers, the sale of drugs on school grounds, and student possession of weapons were serious or moderate problems at their school than the three most prevalent problems. Types of Schools With Discipline Problems Principals were more likely to perceive at least one discipline issue as a serious problem in high schools and schools with enrollments of more than 1,000 students (table 12). Comparatively, the lowest percent of schools with principals reporting serious discipline problems were elementary schools (8 percent), followed by middle schools (18 percent). Twice as many principals in high schools reported some serious discipline problems (37 percent). Thirty-eight percent of principals in large schools reported some serious discipline problems compared with 15 percent of principals in medium-sized schools and 10 percent of principals in small schools.

The discipline issues most frequently reported as moderate or serious problems by principals differed by instructional level, school size, location of school, minority enrollment, and the percentage of students eligible for the federally funded free or reduced-price lunch program (tables 13 through 17). For elementary and high schools, student tardiness and student absenteeism or class cutting were among the three most often cited serious or moderate discipline problems (32 and 67 percent, respectively, for student tardiness, and 17 and 52 percent, respectively, for student absenteeism/class cutting; figure 5 and table 13). Principals of elementary and middle schools also reported physical conflicts among students as one of their top three serious or moderate discipline problems (18 percent and 35 percent, respectively), whereas in high schools, student tobacco, drug, and alcohol use were more often reported as serious or moderate problems than physical conflicts among students (48, 36, and 27 percent compared with 17 percent, respectively). Principals in large schools were more likely to report student tardiness was a serious or moderate problem than those in medium-sized and small schools (64 percent compared with 42 percent and 29 percent, respectively; table 14). Student absenteeism/class cutting was also more of an issue in large schools, with 53 percent of these schools compared with 24 percent of medium schools and 19 percent of small schools considering it a serious or moderate problem. Tobacco use was also more frequently regarded as a serious or moderate problem in large schools (40 percent of large schools, compared with 11 percent of medium and 13 percent of small schools). Physical conflicts among students were more frequently reported to be serious or moderate discipline problems in city schools than in rural schools (25 percent versus 14 percent; table 15).

Student tardiness was more frequently reported as a serious or moderate problem by principals in schools with a minority enrollment of more than 50 percent (56 percent) compared with 25 to 42 percent in schools with less than 20 percent minority enrollment (table 16). This pattern was also found in schools with the highest percentage of students eligible for the federally funded free or reduced-price lunch program compared to the lowest (table 17). Twenty-nine percent of schools with 75 percent or more students eligible for the school lunch program reported physical conflicts as a serious or moderate problem, compared with 13 percent in schools that have fewer than 20 percent of students eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch. Relationship Between Safety and Principals’ Perceptions of Discipline Issues Principals’ perceptions of discipline issues were related to reported crime in their schools. Among principals in schools with no reported crime, 59 percent reported that discipline issues were either not a problem or that there were only minor problems compared with 31 percent in schools with at least one crime (figure 6). Conversely, 24 percent of principals in schools with any crime at their schools perceived at least one discipline issue as a serious problem while 5 percent of principals in schools with no crime perceived that their schools had one or more serious discipline problems. Comparisons of Principals’ Perceptions in 1991 and 1997 Identical information on principals’ perceptions of discipline problems, with the exception of an item about gangs, was collected in another FRSS survey conducted in 1991.

A few comparisons of the principal-reported data over time are noteworthy, and tables 13 through 17 provide data for both years. Although student tardiness, student absenteeism/class cutting, and physical conflicts were the three most often mentioned serious or moderate discipline problems in 1991 and 1997, principals in high schools were more likely to report tardiness, absenteeism/class cutting, and student drug use as serious or moderate problems in 1997 (67, 52, and 36 percent, respectively) than in 1991 (50, 39, and 20 percent, respectively; table 13). Among those schools with 75 percent or more students eligible for the federally funded free or reduced-price lunch program, teacher absenteeism was less likely to be rated as a serious or moderate problems in 1997 by principals (table 17). In 1991 teacher absenteeism was reported to be a serious or moderate problem by 33 percent of principals compared to 15 percent of principals in 1997. School Actions and Reactions to Discipline Issues The survey asked respondents to indicate how many of three specific actions were taken against students for each of the following offenses: The possession or use of a firearm; The possession or use of a weapon other than a firearm; The possession, distribution, or use of alcohol or drugs, including tobacco; and Physical attacks or fights. The three disciplinary actions about which schools were asked to report were expulsions, transfers to alternative schools or programs, and out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 or more days. It is important to note that schools may have chosen to invoke any, more than one, or none of these disciplinary actions during the 1996-97 school year for the above offenses.

They may also have taken other disciplinary actions. Thus, these three disciplinary options are not an exhaustive list, simply those that were focused upon in this survey. It is important to note that schools may not have experienced any of the crimes or infractions and therefore took no actions. Possession or use of a firearm. For the possession or use of a firearm, 5 percent of all schools reported taking one or more of these three actions against students for a total of 16,587 actions (table 18). Half of the actions reported were out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 or more days (49 percent; figure 7).

Twenty percent of school-reported actions were transferring students to alternative schools or programs, and 31 percent were expulsions of students for the possession or use of a firearm (figure 7 and table 18). Possession or use of a weapon other than a firearm. Weapons other than a firearm were defined as any instrument or object used with the intent to threaten, injure, or kill, including knives, razor blades or other sharp-edged objects, ice picks or other pointed objects, baseball bats, sticks, rocks, or bottles. Twenty-two percent of public schools reported having taken one or more of the specific actions against students for possession or use of a weapon other than a firearm (table 18). About 58,000 actions were reported: 23 percent of these actions were expulsions, 22 percent were transfers to alternative programs or schools, and 55 percent were out-of school-suspensions lasting 5 or more days (figure 7 and table 18). Possession, distribution, or use of alcohol or drugs, including tobacco.

For the possession, distribution, or use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, 27 percent of schools reported taking a total of about 170,000 actions: 62 percent of the actions were out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 or more days, 20 percent were transfers to alternative schools or programs, and 18 percent were expulsions (figure 7 and table 18). Physical Attacks or Fights. About 40 percent of all public schools reported having taken at least one of the actions against students for fighting for an estimated total of 331,000 actions (figure 7 and table 18). The most commonly reported action was out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 or more days (66 percent), followed by transfers to an alternative school or program and expulsions (19 and 15 percent, respectively). Zero Tolerance Policies Three-quarters or more of all schools reported having zero tolerance policies for various student offenses (figure 8 and table 19).

Zero tolerance policy was defined as a school or district policy that mandates predetermined consequence/s or punishments for specific offenses. About 90 percent of schools reported zero tolerance policies for firearms (94 percent) and weapons other than firearms (91 percent). Eighty-seven and 88 percent had policies of zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs, respectively. Seventy-nine percent had a zero tolerance policy for violence and 79 percent had a zero tolerance policy for tobacco. Schools with no crime reported were less likely to have a zero tolerance policy for violence (74 percent) than schools that had reported one or more serious crimes (85 percent). Policies to Report Crimes to the Public Thirty-nine percent of public schools had a policy to report serious crimes to the public (table 20). Schools with no reported crime (46 percent) were more likely than schools with reported crime (34 percent) to have such a policy. Requiring School Uniforms Three percent of all public schools require students to wear uniforms (table 21). About one-fourth (26 percent) of these schools initiated the requirement prior to the 1994-95 school year, 40 percent initiated it between the 1994-95 and 1995-96 school years, and 34 percent initiated it in 1996-97 (figure 9). Uniforms were more likely to be required in schools with a high percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (11 percent in schools with 75 percent or more free or reduced-price lunch eligibility) compared with schools in which less than 50 percent of students were eligible (2 percent or less; table 21).

Schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment were also more likely to require student uniforms than those with lower minority enrollment (13 percent compared with 2 percent or less). School Efforts to Ensure Safety and Promote Discipline Schools completing the survey were given a list of seven security measures widely used to ensure safety in schools and asked if these measures were used in their institutions. Schools reported on whether the following actions were taken: Visitors were required to sign in; Access to school grounds was controlled; Access to the school building was controlled; School campuses were closed for most students during lunch; Students had to pass through metal detectors daily; Random metal detector checks were performed; and Schools conducted drug sweeps (e.g., locker searches, dog searches). Ninety-six percent of public schools reported that visitors were required to sign in before entering the school buildings (figure 10). This measure was required by almost all schools, with a range of 91-100 percent, regardless of instructional level, size, locale, region, minority enrollment, or percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-priced school lunch (table 22). Security included controlled access to school grounds in 24 percent of public schools and was most prevalent in large schools.

Forty-nine percent of large schools reported controlling access to school grounds, compared with 16 percent of small schools and 24 percent of medium-sized schools. Controlled access to school grounds also varied by locale, region, percent minority enrollment, percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and principals’ reported discipline problems. City schools were more likely to secure school grounds than rural schools (35 percent, compared with 13 percent). Schools in the Central region of the country were about half as likely to report controlling access to school grounds as those in the Southeast and the West (12 percent compared with 28 to 31 percent, respectively). Controlled access to school grounds was higher in schools with the highest percentages of minority students than those with the lowest percentages (14 percent in schools with less than 5 percent minority enrollment and 38 percent in schools in which at least half the students were minorities) and in schools with the largest proportions of students in poverty than in those with the lowest (18 percent in schools with less than 20 percent eligibility for the free or reduced-price school lunch program and 37 percent in schools with 75 percent eligibility for the school lunch program).

Fifty-three percent of public schools controlled access to their school buildings. Elementary and middle schools were more likely to secure access to the school building than high schools (57 and 51 percent compared with 40 percent). Differences were also found by school size. Fifty-five percent of large schools and 57 percent of medium-sized schools controlled access to their school buildings compared with 40 percent for small schools. City and urban fringe schools were also more likely to control building access (62 and 68 percent, respectively) compared with those located in towns (49 percent) and rural areas (33 percent).

Northeastern schools were more inclined to have controlled access to their school buildings (70 percent) compared with Western schools (46 percent), Central schools (48 percent), and Southeastern schools (52 percent). Eighty percent of schools reported having a closed campus policy prohibiting most students from leaving the campus for lunch. At 93 percent, middle school principals overwhelmingly reported having this policy (table 22). A smaller percentage of elementary and high schools had this policy (76 and 78 percent, respectively). Sixty-seven percent of small schools had instituted the closed campus policy compared with 82 percent of large schools. Daily use of metal detectors as a security measure was reported in 1 percent of public schools. Schools where serious violent crimes were reported were more likely to employ metal detectors than those with less serious crime only or no crime (4 percent compared with 1 percent or less).

Random metal detector checks were more likely to be reported by large schools (15 percent) compared with small schools (less than 1 percent) or medium-sized schools (4 percent). Similarly, a higher percentage of schools where a serious crime was reported (15 percent) performed these checks compared to schools where no crime was reported (1 percent) or schools where only less serious crimes were reported (4 percent). Middle and high schools where principals reported at least one serious discipline problem were more likely to use drug sweeps (36 and 45 percent, respectively) compared with elementary schools (5 percent). Presence of Police or Other Law Enforcement in Public Schools In addition to the security measures above, 6 percent of public schools had police or other law enforcement representatives stationed 30 hours or more at the school, 1 percent of schools had law enforcement officials stationed 10 to 29 hours, 3 percent had officials stationed from 1 to 9 hours, 12 percent of schools did not have officials stationed during a typical week (but were available as needed), and 78 percent of schools did not have any officials stationed at their school during the 1996-1997 school year (table 23). The full-time presence of law officials, while rare at elementary schools (1 percent), was found in 10 percent of middle schools and 19 percent of high schools.

It was also reported in 39 percent of large schools with 1,000 or more students, in 13 percent of city schools and schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment, in 15 percent of schools in which principals felt there were some serious discipline issues, and in 23 percent of schools in which at least one serious crime was reported in 1996-97. Violence Prevention Programs A majority of public school principals (78 percent) reported having some type of formal school violence prevention or reduction programs (tables 25 and 26). The percentage of schools with both 1-day and ongoing programs (43 percent) was almost double the percentage of schools with only ongoing programs (24 percent) and quadruple the percentage of schools with only 1-day programs (11 percent). Schools in which a serious crime was reported were more likely to have violence prevention programs than those in which no crime or only less serious crime had occurred (93 percent compared with 74 and 79 percent, respectively; tables 25 and 27). Schools with serious crime also had more programs per school. They reported a mean of 6 programs per school compared with 3.4 violence prevention programs in schools with no crime or lesser crimes only (table 27). In some public schools, incidents during 1996-97 requiring police contact were used to modify or introduce new violence prevention programs. Of schools with violence prevention programs that had reported one or more crimes in 1996-97, 31 percent had used these incidents to introduce or modify their violence prevention programs (table 28).

School principals were asked if, during the 1996-97 school year, they had any formal programs or efforts intended to prevent or reduce school violence. Selected components of prevention/reduction programs were listed and principals were asked if any of their programs included each of the following: The prevention curriculum, counseling/social work, and review/revision of schoolwide discipline practices were components used most often by schools with violence prevention or reduction programs (89 percent, 87 percent, and 85 percent, respectively), while reorganization of school, grades, or schedules was used least often (28 percent; table 29). With the exception of community/parental involvement, which 48 percent of schools reported using, between 63 percent and 81 percent of the schools with violence prevention or reduction programs reported using the remaining components. Participation in Violence Prevention Programs When asked how many students in their schools participated in violence prevention programs that directly served students, 50 percent of principals in schools with violence prevention programs reported that all or almost all of their students participated (figure 12 and table 30). When asked what proportion of teachers and staff in the schools were substantially involved in the programs, 44 percent of principals in schools with violence prevention programs reported all or almost all (table 31). Fifty-one percent of elementary school principals reported that all or almost all of their staff were substantially involved in school violence efforts or programs compared to 40 percent of middle schools and 26 percent of high schools.

Forty-six percent of medium-sized schools reported that all or almost all of their staff were involved in violence prevention programs, compared to 32 percent of large schools. Social Issues.