Several national polls released this fall revealed that parents are worried about their children’s safety at school. This is not surprising. Another horrific school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas, stunned the country yet again in May. These mass school shootings, while rare, rip the fabric of parents’ trust that their children will return home safely every school day.
School board members and school leaders know that school safety and security is a multifaceted and complex issue. It’s also an equity issue. We must understand that our security solutions have the potential to cause harm if implemented incorrectly or without awareness of the risks.
When districts look at using so-called “hard” security measures—armed security officers, metal detectors, locker searches, and camera and other surveillance—students often feel less safe. Armed school resource officers (SROs) or police officers in the schools can cause trauma to students, especially marginalized students. Without the establishment of meaningful relationships between law enforcement and students, these situations have the potential to turn behavioral issues into law enforcement issues, and to result in students entering the judicial system well before their brains and bodies have reached maturity. Black students are overwhelmingly disciplined, suspended, and arrested more often than white students. Intentional relationship building is essential for an effective law enforcement presence in schools.
While mass shootings remain mercifully rare, that doesn’t mean there isn’t violence in schools. Our students face physical fighting, bullying, sexual harassment and assault, and intimidation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its most recent nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered to high school students in 2019:
- About 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last year.
- 8% of high school students had been in a physical fight on school property one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.
- More than 7% of high school students had been threatened or injured with a weapon (for example, a gun, knife, or club) on school property one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.
- Almost 9% of high school students had not gone to school at least one day during the 30 days before the survey because they felt they would be unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.
Any school security and safety plan must have equity at the forefront and include ways that the district strengthens the feeling of connection for students. According to the CDC, students who experience racism, students from racial and ethnic minority groups, and students who identify as LGBTQ+ often feel less connected at school.
School security and school climate are intertwined. Ultimately, it is the connections between students and teachers and other adults, between students and their peers, between students and their family, and between families and communities and their school that makes the most difference in preventing violence.
Putting policies in place that improve school climate and strengthen relationships at every level in the district will make your schools better places to work and to learn. It is the right of every student to feel safe and secure in their classrooms so they learn and grow into healthy adults. It is our duty as school board members to ensure that happens.