Public School Safety and Discipline

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In May 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published its “First Look” analysis of survey data on school safety for the school year 2013-2014. The NCES is a government organization chartered in response to a Congressional mandate to collect and analyze statistical data characterizing public schools throughout the United States.

It is important to understand that this report:

  • Considers only safety/security in public schoolsies cover
  • Is an initial report and does not include prioritized findings or recommendations
  • The data was collected via a survey and therefore represents self-reported data

The response rate for the survey was 86 percent representing more than 54,000 elementary, middle and high schools. A sample of this size should yield statistically significant information.

Based on the “selected findings,” data tables and remarks captured in footnotes included in the report, Firestorm found the following statistics to be extremely significant:

  1. Sixty-five percent of schools reported at least one violent incident during the 2013 – 2014 school year. One out of every 14 schools reported a serious violent incident during the school year.  
    • Firestorm believes that these rates of occurrence demand that schools be prepared for violent incidents, which means the creation and implementation of comprehensive School Violence Programs and plans.
  2. Between 81 percent and 95 percent of schools provided training to faculty and faculty aides on safety procedures, discipline policies and practices on bullying and positive intervention strategies. Only 48 percent of schools, however, provided training on recognizing early signs of students likely to become violent.  
    • Firestorm finds that this reflects a serious deficiency in school preparedness. Recognizing early signs of potentially violent students and responding with appropriate positive intervention is the most effective and least costly approach to preventing potentially violent situations.
    • Firestorm strongly recommends developing and implementing a thorough process for monitoring student activities at school, identifying potential behavioral risks and proactively intervening when necessary – before risks escalate to violence.
  3. Eighty-eight percent of schools had a written plan or procedures for responding to an active shooter scenario, but only 70 percent of schools had exercised their plans.
    • This discrepancy between the existence of a plan and the exercising of that plan means that, for all purposes, three out of every ten schools do not have a plan that can be quickly and effectively executed. This is a serious issue and should be remedied.
    • Firestorm recognizes that, in a crisis or emergency, all human beings will, without exception, react with the “freeze, flee or fight” response. The best way to rapidly recover from this response is to have a plan that is known, understood and has been exercised to ensure familiarity.  Firestorm strongly recommends announced and unannounced exercises to preparedness plans. If possible, local emergency responders should participate in exercises of school preparedness plans. Such participation should be frequent enough that every student has the chance to experience such realistic exercises twice during their attendance at the school.
  4. Student bullying occurred monthly in 37 percent of the schools and “on occasion” in 61 percent of schools. Verbal abuse of faculty was reported at least monthly in 10 percent of schools and “on occasion” in over half of the schools.  
    • These rates make bullying and verbal abuse of faculty common enough to require well-prepared responses. Firestorm strongly recommends that schools include bullying (physical and cyber) and verbal abuse in their school violence preparedness program. It is also recommended to include the creation and maintenance of an “intelligence network” to monitor for problems and early signs of behavioral issues. An intelligence network would include staff and faculty trained to recognize warning signs of bullying and other behaviors of concern.
  5. While 93 percent of schools controlled access to school buildings, only 43 percent of schools controlled access to school grounds.  
    • Firestorm recommends that schools seriously consider the risks to students, staff and faculty not only in school buildings but also on school grounds.  

In the United States, we expect our children to learn in a safe and secure environment. While the likelihood of an active shooter event is low, the impact is extremely high. The NCES data indicates that one in every 500 schools reported a homicide or other fatality during the school year 2013-2014. This rate requires attention and preparation. Firestorm applauds the progress that public schools throughout the nation have made in preparing for high-impact violent incidents. It is also important to plan for the lower-impact violent events that occur much more frequently. It is most important to train faculty and staff on crisis plans and to exercise them regularly. PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®

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