School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center

Here’s How Educators Feel About Their Safety at School

By Caitlynn Peetz — June 23, 2023 2 min read
The playground of a public school in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, is sealed off with caution tape.
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A hefty portion of educators say they feel more unsafe at work than they once did, according to the results of a recent survey.

In the survey of educators, principals, and district leaders conducted by the EdWeek Research Center last month, 41 percent of respondents said their sense of safety at work has decreased compared to 2019, the last year before the pandemic hit. Among that group, 15 percent said their sense of safety has decreased “a lot.”

About the same share—42 percent—said their sense of safety has stayed the same, while an additional16 percent said it has increased.

Overall, though, most educators—71 percent—said they still generally feel safe at school.

The results come as teachers and school districts report experiencing more behavioral problems among students than pre-pandemic. More students are struggling with their mental health and social-emotional skills after prolonged periods of isolation and time out of traditional school settings, prompting widespread calls for deeper investments in mental health resources in schools.

Many districts have also reported an increased number of threats and more violence in schools. And an analysis by Education Week has found that school shootings have risen. In 2022, there were 51 school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths of students and, in some cases, teachers. That was the highest annual total since Education Week began tracking school shootings in 2018.

Still, some studies, including one from the RAND Corporation last month, show that teachers’ biggest safety concern is about students bullying each other, rather than gun violence or being attacked.

Teachers also appear to be more worried than principals and district leaders. In the EdWeek Research Center survey, 66 percent of teachers said they feel safe at work, significantly lower than for principals (83 percent) and district leaders (88 percent).

Nearly half (46 percent) of the teachers who responded to the survey said their sense of safety has decreased since 2019, compared to 36 percent of principals and 26 percent of district leaders.

A Pew Research Center Survey in October found that about one-third of parents are very or extremely worried about a shooting ever happening at their children’s school.

In that survey, a larger share of parents who live in urban areas (46 percent) were worried about school shootings than parents in rural or suburban areas (both 28 percent).

In the EdWeek Research Center survey, educators in urban districts (47 percent) were the most likely to say their sense of safety has decreased since 2019. Thirty-four percent of respondents in suburban or rural districts said their sense of safety has decreased, and about half said they feel no more or less safe than in 2019.

Asked what would make them feel safer at school, school staff were most likely to point to prevention measures like hiring additional mental health professionals (52 percent), closing loopholes in background check laws to purchase firearms (45 percent), and banning assault weapons (40 percent).

Respondents were least likely to support measures that would increase police presence or allow more firearms on campus. Just 11 percent of educators said allowing teachers to carry guns on campus would make them feel safer, while 14 percent percent selected increasing police presence as a promising option and 15 percent favored increasing the presence of non-armed security.

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Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.

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