Five years ago this week, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., claimed the lives of 14 students and three staff members, and injured 17 more.
Weeks before that horrific incident, Education Week began tracking shootings in schools that resulted in injury or death. And since that time, other high-profile, mass school shootings have killed and injured people in Santa Fe and Uvalde, Texas, along with dozens of other shootings that did not garner the same media coverage and public outcry, but were no less devastating to the schools, students, educators, families, and communities affected.
In all, 103 people have been killed and 281 people injured from school shootings since 2018. In 2022, there were 51 school shootings—more than double the numbers for 2018 and 2019, which both saw 24 such incidents. Last year, school shootings hit a record, with 100 people shot on school campuses and 40 people killed.
Following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Parkland students banded together with other organizers across the country to demand tougher gun laws. Their protests are credited with raising awareness and support that led to legislative change in their state and some others. About a month after the Parkland mass shooting, Florida lawmakers approved the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which placed new restrictions on rifle sales and increased the age to legally purchase a gun to 21. In 2018, a total of 50 new laws were enacted across the nation restricting access to guns.
But, as our data show, shootings in schools in 2022 reached their highest level since we began keeping count. Experts weighed in on the impact of school violence on students, the ongoing behind-the-scenes work happening to reduce threats and incidents of school violence, and why they believe the shootings continue.
Impact of school violence on students
Franci Crepeau-Hobson, the chairwoman of the National Association of School Psychologists’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee and professor of school psychology at the University of Colorado Denver, said school violence can have a serious emotional impact on students. “Particularly for kids who are more vulnerable to begin with, in the short term, it can totally undermine their sense of safety and security,” she said. The resulting fear and anxiety can impact students’ ability to concentrate or sleep.
“In the educational environment,” she added,"there’s not a lot of learning going on.”
Crepeau-Hobson also explained that certain circumstances make it more difficult for students to recover emotionally from the experience of being in a school community where a shooting has occurred. Directly witnessing a shooting or losing a loved one to a shooting greatly exacerbates children’s emotional suffering, she observed, as do pre-existing mental illnesses or trauma and a lack of strong social support.
“They are going to struggle and need additional supports,” Crepeau-Hobson said, of those students who fall into any of these categories.
In addition to these challenges, Crepeau-Hobson noted that pandemic-related isolation and lack of typical interaction led, in many instances, to what she referred to as “arrested development,” which can affect children attempting to cope with feelings of isolation and anger. “Kids don’t have the strategies and skills we would expect them to have at given ages,” she said. “They didn’t have the opportunity to be in school and engage on a regular basis and learn the skills to interact and resolve conflict.”
Prevention programs work, but are used infrequently, say experts
The good news is that there’s a growing body of evidence-based research around how to address these problems. When effectively applied, these research-based interventions can stem student violence, according to some experts.
“Many states have taken steps to encourage the use of behavioral threat assessment programs in their schools, and a lot of progress has been made that might not be obvious to the public,” Dewey G. Cornell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, wrote in an email.
Cornell explained that, in thousands of instances, assessment teams have been able to resolve student threats without violence. But the school-based programs that make this possible involve moving away from zero tolerance programs and reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, according to Cornell. Instead, they require hiring and training of employees such as school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers.
“Most of the government funding for school safety has gone toward security systems and too little has gone toward prevention services,” Cornell wrote. “The problem of school violence is not solved by installing metal detectors or security cameras. It requires proactive efforts to help distressed students long before they show up at school with a gun.”