School violence, when it occurs, has a high impact on schools and communities where the incident takes place. Rare but deadly incidents of violence, such as the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999 or the more recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, bring the harsh realities of school violence to light.
These are both extreme examples, of course, but violence in smaller doses still occurs in schools around the country. The Centers for Disease Control report that about 828,000 students each year are victims of non-fatal victimization while on school property, which is about 32 victims per 1,000 students. In schools where violence statistics are even higher, it can be difficult to focus on academics -- and keep students, teachers and administrators safe.
As with many problems in K-12 schools, thinking ahead and putting preventative policies in place can make a difference in the amount of violence experienced. Here are five of the most important ways to turn the tide on school violence:
1. Develop Crisis Prevention Plans. Schools should have a crisis plan in place as a means for ensuring the safety of students. Typically, a crisis plan will address a zero-tolerance policy with regards to weapons. If a student is carrying a weapon into school, that student is automatically expelled. Some plans may require students to wear uniforms and implement security measures, including metal detectors and visitor sign-in. More stringent plans require law enforcement officials, such as police, to be present at the school. These plans are important to maintaining a base-level of safety and making students feel comfortable in their school environments.
2. Develop School-Wide Violence Prevention Policies. Schools, particularly principals, can ensure that teachers, staff and parents within the school have common goals and that everyone is committed to reaching those goals. They can also ensure that the school is run in a fair, firm, and consistent manner; and that high expectations for performance and behavior exist for all students. Implementation of a curriculum that teaches and promotes the values of kindness, honesty, integrity and respect for fellow students, and everyone else would also lend itself to deterring violence. Schools should also develop security measures that ensure weapons and unwanted individuals are kept out of the school and off school grounds, making the school neutral territory for all who attend.
3. Educate Teachers on Violence Prevention. Methods include promotion of classrooms that teach and promote respect and kindness, and in which put downs, teasing and sarcasm are not tolerated. In addition, learning conflict resolution skills so that issues are resolved in win-win outcomes for everyone involved and development of strong classroom management skills is essential. Teachers should also be provided instruction on constructive methods of communication in order to help prevent violence.
4. Educate Students on Violence Prevention. Teach students peer-mediation skills so that they can handle problems before they escalate. Allow students to be involved in the decision-making process so that they feel that they have a voice in how to handle offenders. Encourage other students to speak up if they see a peer being treated unfairly or in a violent way.
5. Implement Alternative Schools for Serious Offenders. Segregation of students who have a history of violence by putting them in alternative schools is one approach. This allows for remediation efforts to focus on the violent students without putting others at risk. This should never be a first resort, though.
There are no easy answers when it comes to violence in schools. While this list focuses on the education system alone, community efforts must also help to combat this distressing issue. Giving students a safe place to vent their anger or concerns will go a long way toward keeping everyone safer -- and that should start in our K-12 schools.