School Climate & Safety Explainer

Violence and Safety

By Ron Skinner — September 21, 2004 | Updated: June 06, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A string of horrific school shootings in the late 1990s (“A Colo. Community Looks for Answers After Deadly Attack,” April 28, 1999) catapulted the issues of school violence and safety into the national spotlight, leaving parents, teachers, and policymakers wondering why the attacks had happened and what could be done to better protect the nation’s schoolchildren.

Those high-profile shootings—especially the most deadly incident, at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., in 1999—also led to a public perception that deadly youth violence was on the rise. An April 2000 Gallup poll found that 66 percent of all adults, and 63 percent of parents with children in school, believed it was very or somewhat likely that a Columbine-style shooting could occur in their communities (Carlson & Simmons, 2001).

However, federal statistics on acts of school violence show violence has steadily declined from a peak in the early 1990s, and the numbers continued to fall during the 2000s, according to the 2010 “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” report from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Between 1995 and 2007, the percentage of students who reported being victims of crime at school decreased from 10 percent to about 4 percent.

The number of homicides at schools also was down over the decade of the 2000s compared to the 1990s. While the years 1992 to 1999 averaged 31.1 homicides per year, the average from 2000 to 2009 was 19.4 per year. (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 2010)

Polls have found the level of public fear also subsiding. A series of Gallup polls that asked parents if they feared for their oldest child’s safety at school saw the number answering “yes” drop from greater than 47 percent in surveys conducted in 1999 to 25 percent in 2006.

What has increased significantly is reported cases of bullying, often cited as a cause for youth violence.

In 2007, 32 percent of students reported having been bullied in the past six months, up from 7 percent in 2001. In 2007, 21 percent of students said they had been bullied by being made fun of; 18 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 11 percent said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; 6 percent said they were threatened with harm; 5 percent said they were excluded from activities intentionally; 4 percent said someone tried to make them do something they did not want to do; and 4 percent said their property was destroyed (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 2010).

Recent efforts to address the problem have included the adoption of “zero tolerance” policies that require students to be expelled for up to a year if they engage in violent acts or make threats of violence against teachers or other students.

In addition, at least 44 states and the District of Columbia had some kind of bullying/harassment prevention program or legislation by the end of 2010, and 31 had anti-bullying laws that specifically mentioned “electronic harassment,” according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, which tracks such legislation (“State Cyberbullying Laws Range from Guidance to Mandate,” Feb. 9, 2011). Such preventative measures being adopted by states, districts, and schools are meant to promote the “protective factors” that reduce incidents of violence while also reducing “risk factors” that are more likely to lead to violent acts (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

A study by the Center for Adolescent Health, based at the University of Minnesota, found that factors such as race and family income were poor predictors of future violence. Instead, protective factors such as a positive family relationship or the expectation and desire to attend college reduced the chance of violence, while risk factors such as having frequent problems with schoolwork or having repeated a grade were statistically linked to increased violence (Blum, Beuhring, & Rinehart, 2000).

These risk and protective factors are a product of both the home and school environments and, accordingly, many of the programs designed to address such factors involve not only schools, but also parents and the surrounding community. The School Violence Resource Center, part of the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement, has information on nearly 50 model programs that address youth violence.

Very few of those programs are solely school-based, suggesting that the role of violence prevention is not the exclusive responsibility of schools. Local communities, consulting organizations, and policymakers are all being asked to play integral roles in violence-prevention efforts. But ultimately, schools do face the challenge of setting up support systems that ensure students have a safe haven for learning.

Blum, R.W., Beuhring, T., & Rinehart, P.M., “Protecting teens: Beyond race, income, and family structure,” University of Minnesota, Center for Adolescent Health, 2000.
Carlson, D. K., & Simmons, W. W., Gallup poll analyses, “Majority of parents think a school shooting could occur in their community,"2001.
Education Week, “A Colo. Community Looks for Answers After Deadly Attack,” April 28, 1999.
Education Week, “State Cyberbullying Laws Range from Guidance to Mandate,” Feb. 9, 2011.
Gallup, “Rise in Concern After Columbine in 1999 Has Dissipated,” 2006.
U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” 2010.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General,” 2001.

How to Cite This Article
Skinner, R. (2004, September 21). Violence and Safety. Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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 What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP