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The Clearing House, 84: 119122, 2011

Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 0009-8655 print; 1939-912x online
DOI: 10.1080/00098655.2011.564968

School Safety: Implications and
Guidelines for Secondary Schools

R esponsibility for the safety and welfare of students

and teachers has been an important part of the
school leaders role for decades. For example, in the
enforcement in school safety efforts, or mandating that
local school boards adopt policies aimed at reducing
bullying in schools.
MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (MetLife 2003), It is difficult to argue that concerns about school vi-
students, teachers, parents, and principals overwhelm- olence have not impacted decisions made by various
ingly reported that school safety is the most impor- judges. For example, in a concurring opinion on student
tant part of the principals job. The importance of this speech that could reasonably be interpreted as promot-
role intensified in April 1999 when two students at ing drug use, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Al-
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, shot ito stated the following: Any argument for altering the
and killed several classmates and a teacher before com- usual free speech rules in the public schools cannot rest
mitting suicide in the school library. These shootings on a theory of delegation but must instead be based
became one of the most watched news stories of the on some special characteristic of the school setting. The
year (Lawrence and Birkland 2004). The intensive live special characteristic that is relevant in this case is the
media coverage of the shootings resonated deeply with threat to the physical safety of students (Morse v. Frederick
students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and 2007, emphasis added).
lawmakers around the country (Stader 2011). One of Local school districts have also responded to the con-
the few empirical research studies of students percep- cern by adopting several school safety policies. Since
tions of school culture and safety found a small. . . at least 1997, the National Center for Education Statis-
[but] compelling change in students levels of fear tics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
immediately after the Columbine event (Addington have complied and reported statistical information on
2003). These changes, though statistically small and the prevalence of various types of crime and safety poli-
difficult to individualize, suggest that the raw emo- cies in public schools. The most recent NCES-BJS survey
tion of the unrelenting coverage significantly impacted (Dinkes, Kemp, and Baum 2009) of school crime and
parents, students, teachers, and administrators (Stader safety reports that the percentage of schools using vari-
2011). ous security measures has increased over time. To illus-
Concerns about school safety have not been lost on trate, between the 19992000 and 20072008 school
national and state legislative bodies, federal and state years there was an increase in the percentage of public
judges, and local school boards. For example, 35 percent schools reporting controlled access to school grounds
of the bills introduced by the 106th Congress immedi- during school hours (from 75% to 90%); the use of
ately after Columbine dealt with school violence. Only one or more security cameras to monitor a school (from
9 percent of such bills were introduced in any other time 19% to 55%); the provision of telephones in most class-
frame for that legislative session (Lawrence and Birkland rooms (from 45% to 72%); and the requirement that
2004). Since 2000, virtually every state legislative body students wear uniforms (from 12% to 18%). Students
has passed some form of school safety law (Education ages 1218 also reported an increase in school security
Commission of the States n.d.). These laws and policies measures. For example, between the 19992000 and
vary widely, but they commonly focus on empowering 20072008 school years the percentage of students re-
school leaders to discipline students who commit cer- porting one or more security cameras at their school
tain crimes anywhere in the community, engaging law increased from 39 to 66 and the percentage of students

120 The Clearing House 84(4) 2011

reporting locked entrance or exit doors during the day help function in an academic setting. Smith explains
increased from 38 to 61. how schools must, and can, work with the community,
Violent deathsdefined as homicides, suicides, parents, and the students in creating a safer learning
deaths by law enforcement, and accidental firearm- environment to counteract some of the negative vari-
related deathson school campuses are rare, but tragic, ables that can deleteriously impact urban students both
events. From July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, there were emotionally and academically. Additionally, Smith of-
43 school-associated violent deaths in elementary and fers techniques for enhancing behavior and increasing
secondary schools in the United States (Dinkus, Kemp, learning outcomes for urban youth.
and Baum 2009). For this survey school-associated vio- Chris Pack, Alexander White, Katherine Raczynski,
lent deaths included students, staff members, and oth- and Aijun Wang follow with a data-driven article cen-
ers who were not students on the way to, or returning tered around the Safe School Ambassadors program.
from, regular sessions at school or attending or traveling Evaluation of the Safe School Ambassadors Program:
to or from an official school-sponsored event. Of the 43 A Student-led Approach to Reducing Mistreatment and
student, staff, and nonstudent school-associated violent Bullying in Schools describes the components of the
deaths during the timeframe, 38 were youths ages 518. Safe School Ambassadors program, a product of the
Of this number, 30 were homicides and 8 were suicides. nonprofit Community Matters organization. The au-
For the 20072008 school year there was approximately thors then present research data to illustrate the effec-
one homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school tiveness of the Safe School Ambassadors model. Data is
per 2.1 million students. presented that measure the impact of the program on
While school shootings may be statistically rare, school discipline indicators, school climate, and on the
student-on-student victimization is a fairly common oc- varying personnel who are part of the program. The au-
currence on middle and high school campuses. In 2007 thors espouse the virtues of what they label an inside-
about 32 percent of students ages 1218 reported having out, student-centered approach for reducing bullying
been bullied at school during the school year (Dinkes, and harassment in the school setting. They conclude the
Kemp, and Baum 2009). Of this number, 10 percent article by positing best practices for utilizing students to
reported being bullied once or twice a week and 7 per- assist in creating a more positive school climate.
cent reported being bullied almost daily. Most of the The theme of bullying continues in Preventing Bul-
bullying behavior (80%) occurred inside the school. lying and Harassment of Sexual Minority Students in
About 2 percent of students experienced cyberbully- Schools by Holly N. Bishop and Heather Casida.
ing. In addition, 10 percent of students reported that Bishop emphasizes how school districts must be cog-
someone at school had used hate-related words against nizant of the emotional, physical, and academic toll on
them, and 35 percent reported seeing hate-related graf- students who are bullied and harassed because of their
fiti at school. Student-on-student victimization, such as sexual orientation. The authors detail how the power
bullying, hate-related words and symbols, and threats, of degrading words, if not actual physical violence,
are a serious school safety issue. For example, in the impacts these students in several debilitating ways in-
2003 MetLife survey students were the least likely of cluding anxiety, physical problems, and lack of interest
the survey participants to describe their schools as safe. in school. Additionally, Bishop and Casida cite the in-
Conversely, although 89 percent of the principals, 67 crease in litigation by sexual minority students and pro-
percent of the teachers, and 57 percent of the parents vide an excellent synopsis of court decisions that have
said that their schools are safe, only 46 percent of the compelled school districts to take measures to protect
students described their schools this way. This special these students. The authors conclude by proffering ways
theme issue focuses primarily on increasing awareness schools can create safer, more welcoming atmospheres
of the problem of student-on-student victimization and free of bullying and harassment for sexual minority stu-
prevention methods, although other topics related to dents.
school safety also appear. David L. Staders article, Dating Violence, convinc-
ingly makes the argument that dating violence is a
Overview of the Articles phenomenon about which school leaders should be
In the first article, Creating Safe Learning Environ- concerned. While some might think that dating violence
ments for At-Risk Students in Urban Schools, Shonta is something that happens away from the school set-
M. Smith explores the particular plight of at-risk stu- ting and is, therefore, not the schools concern, Stader
dents from urban high schools, many of whom have elucidates how dating violence does impact the school
been exposed to a culture of violence in their commu- and why schools are compelled to address the issue.
nities. Smith paints a picture of the circumstances from The author cites various legal theories and federal leg-
which many at-risk students come and to which most islation that suggest schools can be held liable for
school personnel do not relate. As a result, these stu- dating violence perpetrated by students. Stader then
dents end up lacking the support systems necessary to enumerates several strategies schools and districts can
Introduction 121

employ to educate students and parents about dating cheerleading, which, he contends, no longer resembles
violence with the hope of lessening, if not eliminating, the cheerleading of the 1950s and 1960s. Todays cheer-
its occurrence. leading is much more athletic in nature and requires
A Proposal for Increasing Student Safety through more gymnastics and acrobatic skills. Consequently, in-
Suicide Prevention in Schools, by Janice E. Ward and juries have skyrocketed. Armenta provides guidelines
Melissa A. Odegard, begins by documenting the preva- for ensuring cheerleader safety through more rigorous
lence of suicidal thoughts in students, suicide attempts, training of coaches. The article concludes by pointing
and, in some cases, actual suicides. The authors relate out the dangers that also can befall students while on
the findings of their qualitative study involving a rural school-sanctioned outings. Armenta then lists several
high school after a suicide and an attempted suicide. In- recommendations for planning school field trips that
terviews with school counselors who were close to the teachers and administrators should follow to heighten
situation provide insight into the effect of the suicide student safety.
and attempted suicide on students, families, and the Spencer C. Weiler and Martha Cray collaborate for the
community. Ward and Odegard indicate signals to look final two articles in the issue. In response to the increase
for that might indicate a high-risk suicide student. The in school violence in the recent past, the presence of
authors reinforce the responsibilities of schools to pro- School Resource Officers (SROs) has been a common
tect students while referencing several states that have sight on public school campuses, particularly in middle
instituted suicide prevention training for school staff. schools and high schools. In their first article, Police at
Ward and Odegard also detail how a suicide preven- School: A Brief History and Current Status of School Re-
tion program might be structured and offer specifics source Officers, the authors trace the evolution of SROs
concerning what to look for when choosing a suicide and present statistical information concerning the ef-
prevention curriculum for schools. fectiveness of having SROs on a campus. Based on this
Jeanne L. Surface, through the article Not All Threats extensive review of literature, Weiler and Cray offer a
Are Equal, examines varying threat types. The author broad overview of SRO programs from their genesis to
explains how threats can range from overt physical ag- their current status, including the challenges of acquir-
gression, like shootings, to seemingly mild threats, such ing and maintaining funding.
as exercising ones First Amendment rights to freedom As a follow-up to Police at School, Cray and Weiler
of expression. Even for milder threats, Surface reminds team up once again to share results from their empir-
school leaders that resolution often requires finding a ical study that sheds light on the answers to three ma-
balance between the rights of individual students to free- jor questions regarding SRO programs. Policy to Prac-
dom of expression and the equally important duty to tice: A Look at National and State Implementation of
protect the safety rights of the larger group. The author School Resource Officer Programs depicts the patterns
chronicles important U.S. Supreme Court cases such for SRO programs in public schools, policies in schools
as Tinker and Bethel, among others, to illustrate how that guide the program, and whether policy documents
courts have provided guidance for schools. Surface also grant the SROs what they need to function effectively.
explores hate speech, the increase in student expres- Cray and Weiler gathered data from 67 randomly se-
sion on the Internet, and anonymous and ambiguous lected school districts in their home state to determine
threats. The author then offers information about the what policies guide school district SRO programs and
determination of threat levels and the development of the degree to which those policies assist SROs in carrying
threat inquiry teams and threat assessment teams, as out their duties. As a result of their findings, the authors
well as factors to be considered in assessing threats. Sur- make several recommendations that school districts can
face concludes the article by listing suggested steps for follow to make an SRO program more effective and, ul-
school boards when developing board policy related to timately, help create a safer learning environment.
the various types of threats in schools. The readers of this special issue are sure to benefit
This issue takes a different turn with Tony Armentas from the information contained within. The coeditors
article, Playing it Smart: Safety in Extracurricular Ac- are grateful to the authors who have shared their time
tivities. Armenta delves into the fun and games of and expertise in order to increase the likelihood that all
athletics, cheerleading, and field trips and reminds us U.S. schoolchildren will attend safer schools.
that these, too, can impact school safety. Many students
each year end up in emergency rooms and some even REFERENCES
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Dinkes, R., J. Kemp, and K. Baum. 2009. Indicators of school crime
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care. After pointing out the possible dangers in the area National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education sci-
of athletics, the author turns to the related subject of ences, U. S. Department of Justice.
122 The Clearing House 84(4) 2011

Education Commission of the States. n.d. Recent state policies/activities: MetLife. 2003. Metlife survey of the American teacher: An examination of
School safety-safe and drug free schools initiatives. school leadership.
Lawrence, R. G., and T. A. Birkland. 2004. Guns, Hollywood, and Morse v.Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007).
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