This article will explore numerous issues associated with school related violence and violence prevention. Due to the undeniable risks and threats that have become apparent in school systems today, threat assessment and violence prevention have become a crucial component of modern school operational plans. In order to assess risks and develop prevention plans, educational leaders must research and investigate many new theories and strategies associated with modern student needs. The article will discuss educational philosophy, missions, and program prioritization. The topic of school budgets and funding associated with programming and violence prevention will also be addressed. Ultimately, the article will provide strategies for evaluating, developing, financing, and implementing effective and age-appropriate violence prevention measures for school settings.
Keywords National School Safety & Security Services; Proactive Plan; Reactive Plan; Safety Statistics; School Safety; School Violence; Threat Assessment; Violence Prevention; Vulnerability
Important issues move in and out of education regularly. However, one issue that arises in education consistently in recent years is school safety. School safety concerns are continuously evolving and, needless to say, the stakes are high. As new technologies arise and new threats develop, school systems must continually assess their level of safety preparedness and respond to any new safety concerns that exist.
School district leaders across the United States and throughout the world have come to the harsh realization that society cannot be trusted unconditionally. The notion that our communities and their citizens will support schools is no longer a safe assumption. True, many community members still support their school systems; however, these instances are now taking second stage to the individuals who violently oppose school systems and those associated with the schools. School district leadership personnel face the task of ensuring they are continually prepared for the worst while trying to maintain a focus on the positive things occurring in their school buildings. It is a somewhat conflicting task; however, it is necessary in order to ensure our schools operate effectively.
"Statistically, schools continue to be one of the most secure places for our children" (National Education Association, 2006). This statement may be statistically accurate; however, the feelings conveyed by many parents, students, and community members argue otherwise. We live in a society that tends to focus on immediacy. The events that have transpired in recent years and remain fresh in the minds of our stakeholders seem to dominate the feelings people have toward our school systems. With this in mind, recent instances of school violence such as the shootings that occurred in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Connecticut have led to a sense of urgency regarding the level of safety and security in schools today.
Data suggests that fewer than half of schools today have security personnel on their campus, and a majority do not have video cameras or metal detectors. This is despite the fact that more than 150 people were killed in school shootings across the country between 2000 and 2013.
When practiced effectively, school-based violence prevention is both proactive and reactive in nature. Modern school systems are faced with the uncomforting notion that often the most legitimate threats are those that go unmade. Many school administrators argue that the easiest plan to foil is that of a student who broadcasts his or her intentions to others. An open line of communication frequently leads to the sharing of violent feelings or thoughts with peers or adults in the school (" Report: More counselors needed," 2002). Some even argue that these threats are the least credible, as the students responsible seem to be asking for others to intervene by sharing their plans openly. This leaves the frightening realization that perhaps the greatest threat for school violence comes from those students who choose not to share their plans with others and keep their intentions largely to themselves. Herein is the importance of proactive violence prevention measures.
In order to effectively and efficiently address instances of school violence, plans must be in place and well rehearsed prior to the occurrence. School safety plans have evolved far beyond the traditional fire and tornado drills. Although these traditional drills still play an important role in creating a well-rounded safety plan, an array of other issues must now be addressed as well. Safety issues such as weapons, online predators, substance abuse, chemical threats, and intruders have all surfaced as topics of concern in recent years. Effective school systems are now expected to conduct routine threat assessments and create threat assessment plans that satisfy any potential dangers associated with the school facility, student population, faculty, community, technology, or other areas of concern (Schiffbauer, 2000). In essence, any imaginable and foreseeable threat to the school and its stakeholders must be anticipated and addressed with the understanding that unforeseeable events may also occur.
In an effort to create a plan as thorough and all-encompassing as the aforementioned threat assessment process, a number of strategies can be utilized. Staff development and teacher in-service days have become a rather common means of implementing and rehearsing threat assessment plans. Other avenues that may be utilized include school safety seminars or workshops as well as training partnerships with local safety agencies such as law enforcement or social services.
Threat assessment plans comprise only one piece of the school safety puzzle. A second vital component of a prevention plan is the availability and acquisition of resources necessary to enact such implementations. Resources such as metal detectors, video cameras, police liaison officers, and school social workers are valuable, yet costly. Moreover, daily safety needs such as appropriate lighting, telephones, radios, and computers are also crucial to the safe operation of a school facility but they are expensive. Without question, the daily implementation of safety initiatives is as much a question of dollars as it is desire. Many educators understand the importance of these safety resources; however, few can offer a viable means of paying for all of a school's necessities. As educational budgets decrease and operational expenses associated with items such as technology, transportation, and utilities steadily increase, schools are expected to not only maintain their current programming with smaller budgets but also implement new and innovative initiatives to serve and protect students. To say the least, this presents an intriguing and challenging state of affairs for current educational leaders. When school boards and administrators find themselves faced with choices such as cutting a math program or purchasing video surveillance equipment for safety, a challenging debate over educational prioritization is inevitable.
Within the debate over school violence and safety exists an important distinction between ages and grade levels. As school leadership personnel begin to address safety concerns associated with each of their schools, different topics of interest may surface depending upon the ages of students involved. Although a number of commonalities may be apparent between primary and secondary schools, it is the difference in needs between these student populations that sometimes gets overlooked.
Perhaps the most prevalent shared needs between primary and secondary schools consist of supervision and tolerance. A need for continual supervision exists at all levels. Also, students must be taught the importance of accepting others and educated as to the damage that bullying and harassment can do (October, 2005). Again, these issues seem to exist regardless of age or grade level.
However, other grade- or age-specific safety issues do exist. Primary level students must be taught the basics of personal safety such as playground etiquette and how to interact with strangers or other adults. They must also learn how to contact emergency personnel and under what circumstances to do so. When addressing the needs of secondary students, such elementary issues have typically already been satisfied. As students age, dangers associated with dating, harassment, and technology become important. Also, as the needs of secondary students are often responsive to the changing needs of society, a regular system of evaluating student threats...
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