School Climate & Safety

A Difficult Year for School Safety: 6 Big Themes

By Evie Blad — December 22, 2022 5 min read
A woman holds a young girl's hand as they walk past piles of flowers stacked in front of Robb Elementary School.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To many, the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was the most significant education story of the year.

A former student there killed 19 children and two adults in conjoining classrooms while police fumbled their response.

And, like mass school shootings in years past, the devastation spurred debates and another round of laws and policies about how to keep students safe. Those actions were also fueled by worries about violence more generally—including mass shootings in such locations as grocery stores and nightclubs—and growing concern about student mental health.

Here are six of Education Week’s most-read school safety stories of 2022.

1. Failures in Uvalde showed schools’ vulnerabilities

Rachel Martinez carries her son and a protest sign as she attends a city council meeting, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. A Texas lawmaker says surveillance video from the school hallway at Robb Elementary School where police waited as a gunman opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom will be shown this weekend to residents of Uvalde.

Although 376 law-enforcement officers responded to Robb Elementary School—some carrying ballistic shields and other tactical gear—it took 76 minutes for them to breach the adjoining classrooms where the gunman attacked, a preliminary investigation by the state legislature found in July.

While that report largely focused on officers’ actions, some of its findings also offered cautions for schools around the country, Education Week reported.

For example, frequent campus lockdowns related to community incidents may have “contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts” in Uvalde schools, the investigation found.

Dated facilities and inconsistent safety protocols were also listed as concerns.

2. A high number of school shootings

By October, Education Week countedmore school shootings that injured or killed people than it had in any single calendar year since it began tracking incidents in 2018.

Education Week’s school shooting trackercounts incidents in which at least one person, other than the individual firing the weapon, is injured by gunfire on school property when school is in session or during a school-sponsored event.

Most shootings included in the tracker are not the mass attacks that are typically the focus of school safety debates. School-sponsored events could include evening activities, like football games, and the injured persons may or may not be students.

In October, Education Week covered the challenge of keeping students, athletes, and spectators safe at sporting events.

3. A surge in hoax ‘swatting’ calls frightened communities and challenged administrators

A family shares a tearful reunion following a chaotic scene outside of Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, after the school went into lockdown on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Alarmed parents laid siege to the Texas high school Tuesday after a classroom shooting report that ultimately proved to be false.

A string of false shooting reports disrupted schools across the country at the start of the school year, Education Week reported in September. The calls drew renewed attention to school safety and communication protocols and prompted the FBI and local law-enforcement officials to investigate whether the incidents were connected.

Dozens of schools went into lockdown in recent months after local police received false calls about shootings in progress in their buildings. The FBI has labeled the practice “swatting,” a term that refers to filing a false report with the aim of stoking chaos and provoking a large law-enforcement response.

Students, teachers, and administrators often didn’t know immediately whether the danger was real, causing them fear and anguish.

A school safety expert and administrators offeredtips for easing anxiety and disruption during lockdowns.

4. Congress passed its first major gun bill in decades, including measures for schools

President Joe Biden signed theBipartisan Safer Communities Act in June—the first major gun legislation Congress has passed in three decades.

The law, drafted in response to the Uvalde shooting, creates an “enhanced review process” for gun buyers 21 or younger. It also provides funding to encourage states to enact “red-flag laws,” which allow judges to issue extreme risk-protection orders that limit a person’s access to firearms if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The measure also providessignificant funding for school-based mental health, including $1 billion to build the pipeline of new school psychologists, counselors, and social workers. And it seeks to make it easier for schools to bill Medicaid for student treatments, including mental health services.

5. Educators favor heightened gun restrictions over ‘hardening schools’

When asked what should be included in a school safety law, respondents to a national survey of educators conducted in June by the EdWeek Research Center were most likely to support heightened restrictions on gun sales and more funding for student mental health care.

Those measures won much stronger support from respondents than “hardening schools” with added security features, arming school staff, or increasing funding for school police.

Education Week spoke with educators about their school safety priorities in June, as Congress debated the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

6. Buffalo gunman’s record demonstrates the difficulty schools face in recognizing and responding to warning signs of violence

A Buffalo police officer talks to children at the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”

After a May 14 shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, police revealed that educators had referred the shooting suspect, a former student, to law enforcement last year after he made a general threat. But he was still able to purchase guns and carefully plot his attack.

It can be extremely complicated for teachers and administrators to identify and respond to concerns of violence and student threats, especially when those threats are not specific, experts on school safety and mass shootings told Education Week in May.

“It’s really an unfortunate position that we’ve put schools in,” said Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University, speaking after the Buffalo shooting. “I’ve interviewed principals who say, ‘I make the call [about how to respond to concerning student behavior] and then I lay in bed at night and wonder if it’s the right one.’”

The conversation comes as more and more schools adopt threat-assessment strategies, which are designed to help educators recognize and respond to students’ needs for additional support and safety measures.

But researchers told Education Week that even two trained law-enforcement officers may interpret student behavior differently. While some may see a violent drawing as a warning sign of violence, others may see it as normal behavior. And that same subjectivity can make it difficult for educators to recognize students’ cries for help, they say.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Pave the Path to Excellence in Math
Empower your students' math journey with Sue O'Connell, author of “Math in Practice” and “Navigating Numeracy.”
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Reading Instruction and AI: New Strategies for the Big Education Challenges of Our Time
Join the conversation as experts in the field explore these instructional pain points and offer game-changing guidance for K-12 leaders and educators.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Some Students Welcome Cellphone Restrictions. Here's Why
To curb distractions in class, an increasing number of schools are implementing stricter cellphone policies.
3 min read
A member of the Jim Hill High School Choir uses her cellphone to take a photograph on Jan. 3, 2023.
An increasing number of schools are putting policies in place to restrict student cellphone use on campus.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
School Climate & Safety Teachers With Guns: District by District, a Push to Arm Educators Is Growing
The number of districts with armed educators is rising. An inside look at one of them.
12 min read
Educators with the Benjamin Logan Local School District receive training from the Logan County Sheriff's office to join the district's armed response team in Bellefontaine, Ohio, on June 26, 2023.
Educators with the Benjamin Logan Local School District receive training from the Logan County Sheriff's Office to join the district's Armed Response Team in Bellefontaine, Ohio, on June 26, 2023.
Eli Hiller for Education Week
School Climate & Safety Let's Talk About When Cars Need to Stop for School Buses
A refresher course on the rules of the road involving stopped school buses.
1 min read
Collage of school bus, cars, stop sign and a neighborhood map.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
School Climate & Safety Opinion School Police Officers Should Do More Than Just Surveil and Control. Here’s How
SROs should be integrated into schools as a means to support students and create a safe, humanizing environment.
H. Richard Milner IV
5 min read
opinion sro school police 80377388 01
Dynamic Graphics/Getty