Preventing and mitigating school violence

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Local Voices

Elvis Slaughter

According to Corinne David-Ferdon and others (2016), youth violence affects thousands of young people daily. It is undoubtedly a major public health problem that affects young people, communities, families, and schools. Youth violence occurs when young people between 10 and 24 years purposely threaten or even harm others with physical force or power. It often comes in different forms — bullying, gang-related violence, fights, and threats with dangerous weapons. A young person usually gets involved as a witness, victim, or offender.

In addition, according to data provided by Everytown for Gun Safety, in September 2021 alone there were at least eighty-two cases of gunfire on school grounds across the United States that led to forty-seven injuries and nineteen deaths. Based on the evidence obtained from several years of tracking such cases, most cases of gunfire on school grounds mirror the same problem of gun violence experienced across different locations in the US. So it is not whether violence will happen at your school; it is when violence will happen at your school.

Everytown’s analysis shows that the shooters involved in all the identified forms of gun violence in schools were associated with the school — current students, former students, faculty, school resource officers, or staff. This means that some of the most effective tools for dealing with school gun violence are school-based strategies — effective, comprehensive counseling; overperforming threat assessment programs; and well-funded student support programs.

But school safety drills might be ineffective because such drills share the preparedness protocols and procedures with the same people most likely to carry out a school shooting. And understaffed and poorly trained security, hall monitors, and cafeteria supervisors are sure signs of trouble that can contribute to youth violence and injuries to school staff and students.

Because perpetrators of school gun violence display concerning behaviors, and someone often knows their plan, one effective strategy for combating school gun violence would be establishing an anonymous reporting system. Combine this system with evidence-based threat assessment programs that allow law enforcement and family to temporarily restrict someone’s access to guns once they have shown they might be a risk to themselves or others. In addition, creating a school climate that fosters trust and respect between adults and students increases the possibility of students reporting identified warning signs.

Dealing with violence in school also requires an approach that cuts across schools, homes, and communities. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a broader approach to an effective solution to youth violence.

Organizations such as Everytown, NEA, and AFT believe it is compulsory for any effective school safety plan to be proactive, enacting significant gun violence prevention policies. These policies should permit intervention even before a potential shooter gets hold of a gun. Such solutions for preventing gun violence work alongside school-based intervention policies to provide adequate counseling, create safe climates, provide mental health services, and intervene even before a student turns into a shooter.

To help reduce and prevent violence, schools should hire an experienced district safety coordinator who can effectively implement and oversee safety plans for the school district. In addition, each school should have its safety committee consisting of administrators, staff, students, and parents to meet with the safety coordinator to discuss safety concerns and suggestions in keeping the schools safe, secured, and preventing violence. The school resource officer should also be part of this team.

CARES Act funding should be examined for funding certain positions and programs that can benefit the school in reducing violence and keeping schools safer. The most effective way to reduce or stop violence is to prevent it. Unfortunately, many schools continue to have increased violence yearly because they are not using evidence-based research that works.

Elvis Slaughter, MSCJ, Retired Sheriff’s Superintendent, former fire and police commissioner, criminologist, educator, author, and security consultant


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