School Climate & Safety What the Research Says

How School Security Changed Since the Pandemic, in 5 Charts

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 12, 2023 2 min read
A student covers his head and holds onto a table during a statewide earthquake drill, at Lowell Elementary School on Oct. 20, 2016, in Seattle. Schools, businesses, and community organizations conducted similar exercises across the state as part of the annual Great Washington ShakeOut earthquake and tsunami readiness program.
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After five years of natural and manmade upheavals, most school leaders now have a plan in place and feel prepared to cope with every emergency, from pandemic outbreaks to school shootings to suicide.

What’s more likely to keep them up at night is managing day-to-day disruptions and misbehavior as student trauma and mental health problems rise.

That’s according to federal data released this morning from the School Crime and Safety Survey. The National Center for Education Statistics asked a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 principals about their emergency, security, and discipline policies as part of the School Pulse Survey in November.

The Pulse survey found that 86 percent of schools had developed written plans to cope with pandemic disease outbreaks in 2022, nearly twice as many as in 2017-18, when 46 percent had such plans.

Nearly all schools reported training teachers in positive behavioral-intervention strategies, and more than 80 percent of schools had trained their teachers to recognize bullying and signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts and to intervene in crises.

Still, a rising number of principals—60 percent—said insufficient teacher training in classroom management limits their ability to reduce student misbehavior.

Rising use of school security officers

Half of public schools reported using a school resource officer—a police officer stationed on campus—at least once a week, and another 12 percent of schools reported using a different kind of sworn law-enforcement officer. That’s an overall increase from 42 percent in 2017. More than 50 school districts canceled their contracts with local law enforcement in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, but others schools ramped up their use of the officers following school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and other places. NCES found about 3 percent of schools reported using multiple full-time SROs every week, and more than half of SROs and other security staff now wear body cameras.

The vast majority of school leaders who had resource officers said they strongly believe the law-enforcement officials have a positive impact on their schools. However, NCES found principals at schools that serve 75 percent or more students of color were 10 percentage points less likely to find their SROs beneficial on campus, compared with principals of schools whose populations included only a quarter students of color, 63 percent to 73 percent.

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