ISSUE: Crime, violence, and disorder in schools have become major national issues, as reported in various national surveys of school order and safety. These problems not only endanger students and teachers, but they also prevent teachers from concentrating on teaching and students from concentrating on learning.
OVERVIEW: More than ever before, today's schools are serving children from dysfunctional homes, children living in poverty, children of teenage parents, and special education students. Unfortunately, resources to adequately serve the total range of needs presented by these students are becoming increasingly limited. Adequate parental supervision and control of these students has weakened, and many students have diminished respect for all forms of authority, including the authority of school personnel. As a result, schools are confronted with problems of students possessing weapons, students involved with gang recruitment and rivalry, and students engaged in drug trafficking, both as sellers and buyers. Such problems lead to violent acts in and around schools. In order to create a safe environment that is conducive to learning, schools must implement safety plans and comprehensive prevention programs that address the root causes of violence.
This changing educational climate has created an imperative need for schools to identify tools, strategies, and model programs that enhance the safety and success of all children and the professionals who serve them. Because young people are legally required to attend school, school personnel have a corresponding duty to provide children with a safe, secure, and peaceful environment in which learning can occur. Achieving this end requires that every school district and each individual school develop a school safety plan. Development of such plans is not limited to the school alone but must necessarily involve the entire community.
Jose Rodriguez, principal of Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, explains his belief that if schools are experiencing problems with students, it is important for administrators to inform the surrounding community so the problems can be addressed with collaborative initiatives. [493k QuickTime slide show] Excerpted from the video series Pathways to Prevention, videotape #3, Lessons Learned (Chicago Public Schools and the Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, 1994). A text version is available.
It is no accident that schools experiencing the greatest number and most severe incidents of crime and violence are located in communities that also exhibit these negative characteristics. To offset these tendencies, the creation of safe schools must involve students, teachers, administrators, parents, law enforcement officers, mental health professionals, business and community leaders, and a wide array of youth-serving professionals in the community. The involvement of expertise and support from a variety of resources is essential, because schools have been organized for the purpose of learning rather than as institutions designed to control crime and violence.
Ed Virant, project coordinator for the Drug-Free Program in the Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, describes an effective school and community drug-prevention program in his district. [544k QuickTime slide show] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #6, Preparing Students for Drug-Free Lifestyles (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text version is available.
The most efficient and effective programs for developing safe schools are those that emphasize prevention, positive alternatives, the development of psychosocial skills, and recognition of socially competent behavior. A school climate that builds on the strengths and assets of each student, improving resiliency and protective factors while promoting self-esteem, counteracts the destructive factors that contribute to violence. Improving school order and safety is promoted by providing an environment in which students find a meaningful role and have a variety of pro-social activities in which to participate. Students who are involved in school activities are less likely to engage in school violence and disorder than students who feel alienated and deprived of personally meaningful school involvement (Stephens, 1995).
Maxine Womble, director of the Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, discusses the need for a wide range of prevention activities and the importance of good role models in the lives of children. [213k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #6, Preparing Students for Drug-Free Lifestyles (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text version is available.
GOALS: A safe-school plan is an all-encompassing program that provides for the safety and security of students and educators. It is an ongoing, systematic, and comprehensive process that addresses both short-term and long-term safety measures to eliminate violent attitudes and behaviors in the school. Its basic goal is to create and maintain a positive and welcoming school climate in which all members take pride. This climate is free of drugs, gangs, violence, intimidation, fear, and shaming. A healthy, positive school climate promotes the emotional well-being and growth of every student, while providing a safe, secure environment that does not condone violence in any form. At the same time, however, the school provides firm and consistent rules and guidelines for appropriate student behavior.
Each of the stakeholders involved in the school should recognize his or her responsibility to work for and achieve the following goals.
School Administrator Goals:
Barbara Clayton, coordinator of the Peer Intervention Program in Chicago, describes why the assessment of problems at individuals schools is a highly important part of any prevention program. [179k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Pathways to Prevention, videotape #3, Lessons Learned (Chicago Public Schools and the Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, 1994). A text version is available.
Betty Despenza-Green, principal at Chicago Vocational High School in Chicago, describes an initiative at her school in which teachers learn how to include prevention in their daily curriculum. [272k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Pathways to Prevention, videotape #2, The Chicago Vocational and Benito Juarez Stories (Chicago Public Schools and the Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, 1994). A text version is available.
Cheryl Hollis, a family room liaison for the Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, describes how the schools in her community attempt to involve parents in their prevention programs. [340k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #6, Preparing Students for Drug-Free Lifestyles (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text version is available.
IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Failure to gain the support of students, school staff, parents, and the community prior to development and implementation of a safe-school plan may defeat its purpose. For a school safety program to succeed, all people affected by school crime and violence need to have grassroots involvement and psychological ownership. Failure to include the input from these people often results from leadership assumptions that "we know best" and that the most efficient approach is to impose a personally developed design.
Educators should not move ahead with a safe-school plan before the planners have comprehensive, accurate data about both the generalities and particulars affecting school safety from both an internal school view and an external community view. The result can be a waste of time, money, and energy without any positive influence on improving school safety.
Lack of information and understanding of the range of statutory and case law that is applied to school crime and violence can cause serious problems. Violation of student civil rights in an overzealous commitment to ensuring a safe school can lead to lawsuits that drain the school--and its safety program--of both money and human energy. On the other hand, excessive timidity and apprehension about violating student and adult civil rights for fear of lawsuits can result in failure to implement strong, effective measures to ensure school safety.
Ignoring the need to continually work at supporting and improving an effective network of community resources focused on improving school safety will eventually lead to the breakdown of the network. School officials cannot assume their work is done after the community-school safety network has been established. Maintaining the vitality and effectiveness of the network requires continual attention.
Inadequate attention to the influence of detrimental adults in the community can elevate the problems of school crime and violence. Persons entering the school who are not members of the school community must be carefully monitored. All entrances to the school must be secure.
Failure of school authorities to implement a reasonable school safety plan may lead to legal liability for harm that comes to students in the school. In certain cases that liability may extend to students who are off-campus or who are participating in school-sponsored activities after school hours.
Failure to adequately involve students in planning programs, resources, and rules for improving school order and safety will deprive the safe-school plan of important grassroots information and advice.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: According to some educators, studies indicating a substantial increase in school crime and violence are suspect and unreliable. They suggest that the problem has been exaggerated or obscured by faulty data collection and interpretation.
Some educators believe that approaches emphasizing student control and punishment are far more effective than comprehensive approaches that include training in nonviolent conflict resolution and intervention in situations of bullying, sexual or racial harassment, and other forms of intimidating behavior.
Still another viewpoint is that the soundest, most reliable means of reducing and preventing school crime and violence is for parents to assume primary responsibility for controlling their children.
Using the Law to Improve School Order and Safety
Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program (RCCP)
Crime Prevention Council
1700 K Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 466-6272; fax: (202) 296-1356
National Organization on Legal Problems of Education
3601 S.W. 29th St., Suite 290
Topeka, KS 66614-2047
(913) 273-3550; fax (913) 273-2001
Contact: Robert Wagner
National School Safety Center
4165 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Suite 290
Westlake Village, CA 91362
(805) 373-9977; fax (805) 373-9277
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
U.S. Department of Justice
633 Indiana Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20531
(202) 307-5911; fax (202) 514-6382
This Critical Issue was researched and written by Emanuel Hurwitz, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago; Julius Menacker, Ed.D, Professor of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago; and Ward Weldon, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago. Additional comments were provided by Carol Sullivan, a Minneapolis-based violence prevention consultant.
Date posted: 1996