During the first year or so of the pandemic, when in-person schooling was paused in many parts of the country, school shootings declined.
It was a temporary reprieve.
In 2021, based on data collected by Education Week, there were 34 school shootings—a record high since we began tracking school shootings in 2018. Most of the incidents—24—have occurred since August, when schools reopened for in-person schooling on a wide scale. It’s an alarming pace of gun violence.
On Aug. 13, a 13-year-old boy shot and killed another 13-year-old student during lunch hour in a New Mexico schoolyard. Police say the victim was trying to protect another boy who was being bullied.
On Aug. 27, 8-year-old Fanta Bility was killed when gunfire erupted outside a high school football game near Philadelphia. Officials say they are almost certain she was shot by police officers returning fire.
Then on Nov. 30, tragedy struck Oxford, Mich. Four students were killed when a 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his high school using a gun that was apparently an early Christmas present. It was the deadliest school shooting since May 2018.
These incidents were just 3 of the 34 included in Education Week’s 2021 school shooting tracker.
What defines a school shooting? At Education Week, we count incidents where 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. Our criteria differs from those of other organizations that also track shootings in schools. But it is clearly outlined and consistently applied with meticulous care.
Why track school shootings? “This is the worst nightmare a school district could ever face.” That’s how Chad Martin, the superintendent of the Jefferson school district in Idaho, responded when a student shot and injured two students and a custodian before being disarmed by a teacher earlier this year.
Although school shootings are statistically rare, when gun violence touches a school, it sets off a cascade of fear, pain, grief, and a search for meaning. At the same time, it ignites a search for solutions and debates about how to best keep schools safe.
By tracking school shootings, we aim to provide reliable information to help inform those conversations. Tracking school shootings is complex, and at times heartbreaking. But it’s also a key component to understanding the impact of gun violence on schools.
What do we know about school shootings in 2021?
Here are four takeaways:
1. 2021 had the most school shootings in the past four years
This is a record high since Education Week began tracking school shootings in 2018.
2. Since the start of the school year, there’s been an alarming increase in shootings
Many schools were operating remotely this past spring due to the pandemic. Since the fall, when most resumed in-person instruction, school shootings are up significantly compared to past years.
The 24 school shootings since Aug. 1 of this year is equal to the number of shootings during the same time period in the previous three years combined.
3. More people were killed in school shootings this year than in 2019 and 2020 combined
However, 2018 remains the deadliest year for school shootings since Education Week began tracking them four years ago.
4. A significant portion of this year’s school shootings, 35%, happened at sporting events
This continues a trend seen in previous years. In fact, school leaders often grapple with their role in keeping sport venues safe.