Today’s Climate of Crime, Safety and Security at Schools, Colleges

By Maria Danilova | May 23, 2017

One in every 5 middle and high school students has complained of being bullied at school and the number of reports of sexual assault on college campuses has more than tripled over the past decade, according to a federal study.

“There are areas of concern in terms of bullying and rates of victimization being high,” said Lauren Musu-Gillette, one of the authors of the report by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Justice Department. “We are seeing a long term decline, but we still want people to be paying attention to areas where rates are still high.”

Even though the overall prevalence of bullying has been declining in American schools over the past decade, 21 percent of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied in 2015, the report found. That was slightly below the international average.

The findings in this report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, are based on information drawn from a variety of data sources, including national surveys of students, teachers, principals and postsecondary institutions. The data varies by survey and report, running from 2009 to 2015.

“Bullying is a public health issue because it really affects the mental wellness and health of students and as we know at the extreme end it can lead to everything from suicide to reactive violence,” said David Osher, vice president at the American Institutes for Research. “Because it happens, it doesn’t mean it has to happen.”

The picture was bleaker for gay, lesbian and bisexual students. Thirty-four percent of students who identified as LGBT complained of bullying, compared to 19 percent who identified as heterosexual.

“It’s a high number and a disproportionate number in comparison. We still have a lot of homophobic bias and it plays itself in schools,” said Charol Shakeshaft, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Those students are singled out and isolated and harassed.”

Shakeshaft lamented the Trump’s administration decision earlier this year to rescind Obama-era guidance on the use of bathrooms and other facilities for LGBT students, which she said helped them feel safer. When rescinding the guidance the Education and the Justice departments said such decisions should be left to the states.

Osher said campaigns to raise awareness can only help so much in helping to fight bullying. He called for programs that build empathy and self-awareness, identity and provide support for students who have mental health problems and foster a positive climate in schools.

“If you directly focus on bullying without addressing overall issues regarding school climate, social and emotional development of students, you are likely …. to hit a ceiling,” Osher said.

College Assaults

The report also found a significant rise in reports of sexual assault on university campuses. Such instances jumped from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014. Musu-Gillette cautioned however, that it is not clear from the research whether the number of actual sex crimes has increased or whether victims now feel safer reporting them to authorities.

Other statistics are more encouraging. The number of school deaths dropped from 53 in the 2013 school year to 48 in 2014. Non-fatal incidents of violence and theft at schools are also occurring less frequently. There were 841,000 such occurrences in 2014, compared to 850,100 the previous year.

The percentage of high school students who report having been in a physical fight anywhere has decreased from 42 in 1993 to 23 percent in 2015. The percentage of students in grades 9-12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the past month at the time when data was collected, fell from 22 percent in 1993 to 16 percent in 2015.

Alcohol consumption has also gone down. In 1993, 48 percent of students reported recent alcohol use, compared to 33 percent in 2015.

Black students were being disciplined more frequently than other students across the board. In 2012, 15 percent of African-American students received out-of-school suspensions, compared to 6 percent of all students.

“There is much work left to be done,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the NCES. “The data show that many students do not feel safe at school and are victimized physically, verbally and emotionally.”

Additional findings from the NCES report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, include:

  • During the 2013–14 school year, 65 percent of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of violence had taken place, amounting to an estimated 757,000 crimes. This figure translates to a rate of approximately 15 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled in 2013–14.
  • A total of 48 student, staff, and non-student school-associated violent deaths occurred between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, which included 26 homicides, 20 suicides, 1 legal intervention death, and 1 undetermined violent death.
  • Between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, a total of 12 of the 1,053 homicides of school-age youth occurred at school. During the same period, there were 8 suicides of school-age youth at school, compared with 1,645 total suicides of school-age youth that occurred in calendar year 2013.
  • Ten percent of elementary teachers and nine percent of secondary teachers reported being threatened by a student from their school in 2011–12. The percentage of elementary teachers who reported being physically attacked by a student was higher than the percentage of secondary teachers (8 vs. 3 percent).
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students. Two states had rates above 10: Missouri and Arkansas.
  • The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days decreased from 22 percent in 1993 to 16 percent in 2015, and the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days decreased from 12 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2015 .
  • The percentage of students who reported being afraid of attack or harm at school decreased from 12 percent in 1995 to 3 percent in 2015, and the percentage of students who reported being afraid of attack or harm away from school decreased from 6 percent in 1999 to 2 percent in 2015.
  • In 2014, about 27,000 criminal incidents on campuses at postsecondary institutions were reported to police and security agencies, representing a 2 percent decrease from 2013, when 27,400 criminal incidents were reported. The number of on-campus crimes reported per 10,000 full-time-equivalent students also decreased, from 18.4 in 2013 to 17.9 in 2014 (Indicator 22). x The number of on-campus crimes reported in 2014 was lower than in 2001 for every category except forcible sex offenses.12 The number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus increased from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014 (a 205 percent increase).
  • The number of on-campus arrests for illegal weapons possession and drug and liquor law violations increased between 2001 and 2011 (from 40,300 to 54,300) but has decreased since 2011. Despite this decrease, the number of arrests in 2014 (44,700) was higher than the number in 2001.
School Security:
  • In 2015, nearly all students ages 12–18 reported that they observed the use of at least one of the selected safety and security measures at their schools. The three most commonly observed safety and security measures were a written code of student conduct (96 percent), a requirement that visitors sign in (90 percent), and the presence of school staff (other than security guards or assigned police officers) or other adults supervising the hallway (90 percent).
  • From 1999–2000 to 2013–14, the percentage of public schools reporting the use of security cameras increased from 19 percent to 75 percent. Similarly, the percentage of public schools reporting that they controlled access to school buildings increased from 75 percent to 93 percent during this time.


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