Violence in Public Schools: Keeping Kids Safe


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Approximately half of all schools perform school shooting drills. Photo by Amann

School Shootings, Terrorist Attacks and Disasters: Readiness

The NCES study also asked schools about their plans for various acts of violence including shootings, terrorist attacks (when the U.S.national threat level changes to red, indicating a serious risk of terrorist attack) and natural disasters.

While only 41 percent of schools reported having a written plan for terrorist attacks, 84% of schools reported a written plan for a shooting and 95% of schools had a written plan for natural disasters.

Regarding school readiness for a shooting, primary schools were much less likely to have a plan developed than high schools, and suburban schools were more likely than their city or rural counterparts to have a plan in place.

Additionally, while a high percentage of schools have a written plan for school shootings, only 52% reported running school drills with the students for such an incident compared to over 82% of schools who perform natural disaster drills.

While running drills and having written plans cannot obviously prevent such an incident in schools, teachers who know what to do and students who have practiced what to do will be much quicker to respond to a shooting incident, resulting (theoretically) in fewer casualties.

Student Safety: Customizing Plans for Individual Schools

Michael Kenny, Principal at Springhill Lake Elementary school in Maryland, told Decoded Science that while there is a county-wide emergency plan with standardized instructions for any possible emergency, each school in his county has the responsibility of customizing the plans based on specific location and needs. The schools must submit their plans to the office of school security so that in the case of an emergency, everyone knows the point people and locations. School staff members review these plans periodically, and while monthly fire drills are currently the only requirement at the moment, they are looking into putting practice drills for other emergencies in place.

Specifically for Springhill Lake Elementary, safety measures include both locking all exterior doors but also all classroom doors once the school day has begun. Mr. Kenny explained that “these measures seem extreme to some, but most parents feel safe knowing that once their children enter the building, they will be safe.

School Safety Study

The NCES report is only a snapshot of a cross section of schools for one year; it highlights some important areas that could be improved upon to help increase the safety of public schools. Every time there’s a school tragedy, there are calls for additional studies, which can only help improve safety measures. All students deserve the right to safely attend a local public school without fear of a violent incident occurring that disrupts their learning, their day, or potentially, the rest of their lives. The safety measures that Mr. Kenny shared with us show how one Elementary school attempts to achieve this goal.


Neiman, S. Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools. (2011). National Center for Educational Statistics. Accessed on January 4, 2013.

Zuckerman, D., PhD. et. al. Bullying and Violence. (2010). National Research Center for Women and Families. Accessed on January 4, 2013.

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