(MintPress) – In the spring of 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) felt it necessary to team with the United States Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service to compile research on directed violence at institutes of higher education in America. The studies revealed what had been thought to be a worrisome trend: School violence, at any level of education, is becoming a problem of pandemic levels. In the most recent numbers from the 2009-2010 school year, 1.9 million nonfatal crimes were reported in American schools – from assault to theft.
The FBI’s partnered investigation was launched after the Virginia Tech University campus shooting. The research included a review of 272 different high-profile incidents of violence at high education institutions between 1900 and 2008. Aside from a dramatic spike in violence beginning in the 1980s and exponentially growing throughout the 2000s, the study also revealed how the average crime on a campus takes place. In 75 percent of the studied incidents, firearms or bladed weapons were used and 30 percent of those offenders were not affiliated with the school.
The report noted that colleges and universities often view violence differently than primary education institutions because the campuses are often much larger and do not have the control seen in the nation’s elementary schools or high schools. The expansiveness of the average college campus makes access far easier for perpetrators.
“Campuses essentially function as mini-societies that must deal with the same types of societal issues found in almost any city or town in the United States,” the report read. “Whether the setting is a more traditional campus with distinct boundaries, an urban campus that is interlaced within a larger community, or somewhere in between, most campuses must contend with their own social norms, economy and culture.”
Keeping students from class
Despite incidents of violence at colleges and universities, a vast majority take place in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade facilities. With around 60 million children falling into that grade range, the level of risk only elevates as more children are introduced to the education system. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2006 – the latest year of tabulations by the CDC – there were 29 violent crimes in schools per 1,000 students. Instances of rape, sexual assault and robbery fall into those reports as well.
All indicators point toward an upward trend of those figures as well. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found there was an average of 40 violent incidents per 1,000 students in middle schools during the 2009-2010 school year. The nation also sees an average of nearly 17 homicides in schools each year. What it means to students is still a source of study, particularly in light of growing reports of bullying and cyber bullying in schools.
Bullying has become an epidemic in the U.S., with an estimated 160,000 kids staying home from school every day out of fear of being bullied. In 2010, 14 student suicides were linked to bullying. With that has been the rise of cyber bullying in the Internet age. In 2007, 4 percent of students said they had been bullied on the Internet. Now, over 25 percent of adolescents report being harassed or bullied via the Internet or cell phone.
Direct violence, however, means students miss valuable time in the classroom because they fear the culture of the school when violent incidents happen.
“Depression, anxiety, and many other psychological problems, including fear, can result from school violence. In 2007, 5.5 percent of high school nationwide did not go to school on one or more of the 30 days before the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school,” the CDC wrote. “Missing school for that reason increased between 1993 and 2005, but have not changed significantly since 2005. Another study found that as many as 160,000 students go home early on any given day because they are afraid of being bullied.”
The National School Safety Center (NSSC) does public services as an advocate against school violence, saying that the effects of the violence are toxic for the learning climate students work in. The organization argues that students who see violence in person have a hard time getting the image out of their memory, which can distract them from school work.
Without debating correlation or causation, the increase in school violence over the past couple decades has coincided with the U.S. falling in terms of global student performance in science and math. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that only 32 percent of students in the U.S. demonstrated proficient scores in science exams. Earlier in the year, the Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that America’s high school graduation rate of 77 percent was trailing behind nations such as Germany, Japan, Great Britain, France and Italy – all of which were at 85 percent or higher.
Foreign students have begun outpacing American students when compared in international standards. Students in the U.S. ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. The NSSC speculates that school violence – of which the U.S. ranks near the top among developed nations – could be a contributor to lackluster school performance. Without a global authority to rank countries based on school violence, evidence has to be looked at separately. The U.S. leads the world in school shootings, but may be behind countries such as South Africa in terms of overall school violence.
In South Africa, as many as 40 percent of students say they have been the victims of crime at school. On the other end of the spectrum, France has said that only 39 of its over 75,000 schools have a serious problem with violence. Regardless of the figures, the NSSC says violence can impact the quality of education a child receives.
“The amount of tension that violence in school creates is enough to distract students from concentrating on their studies,” the NSSC wrote. “… Countries that want to develop should make it their priority to bring up children who have the right attitude towards life. It is therefore essential that the government look for ways to end school violence to ensure that the future of the nation is bright.”
New security measures
In response to troubling rates of violence in schools, some districts across the country have taken to prison-like measures by implementing metal detectors at entrances and security cameras throughout buildings. While there are no concrete figures detailing how widespread the use of metal detectors are in schools, the National School Safety and Security Services (NSSSS) organization says that stationary metal detectors are often limited to large urban school districts that have a history of weapons use among students.
The debate of the issue often goes something like this: Proponents for metal detectors say schools should strive to protect students at all costs; opponents say it creates a culture of fear among students. Ken Trump, president of the NSSSS, said the debate varies on the demographics and violence seen within a district. It’s foolish, Trump said in a written statement to MintPress, for districts with no history of violence to implement metal detectors just because it makes the school look safer.
“Metal detectors are not for all districts. In fact, it has been our experience that they are not the answer for the majority of school districts,” Trump wrote. “School leaders must consider both the financial and implementation investments of properly running a metal detector program, and determine if the potential return on investment is as great as putting those financial, manpower and operational resources into other prevention, intervention, security and preparedness strategies.”
Security cameras have become more commonplace in districts, with middle schools and high schools running them in hallways, common areas and sometimes classrooms. Ben Lang, director of technology for Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif. told National Public Radio (NPR) that the community that makes up his district was largely in support of the measure. Lang said that cameras mostly view areas outside the schools and that the district does not make use of indoor cameras because of a reasonable expectation of privacy.
And that privacy expectation is what many opponents to security cameras in schools point to when denouncing the practice. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a reasonable expectation of privacy in schools is limited to areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms.
“Examples of where cameras are generally acceptable are in hallways; parking lots; front offices where students, employees, and parents come and go; gymnasiums; cafeterias; supply rooms; and classrooms,” the department has said. “The use of cameras in classrooms is often debated by teachers who want cameras for protection and teachers who do not.”