ERIC Identifier: ED321343
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Gaustad, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene
School Security. ERIC Digest Series Number EA 46.
A twelve-year-old repeatedly teased by other students brings a gun to
school, shoots another child, and kills himself. A knife-wielding intruder
mugs a teacher in the men's room. Flying bullets from a neighboring housing
project force the evacuation of a high school's playing field.
Events such as these disrupt the learning environment schools try to
provide, filling students and staff with fear and endangering their lives.
Fortunately, a variety of preventive and coping strategies can help beleaguered
teachers and administrators both to protect the school facilities and to
safeguard the people who use them.
HOW CAN A DISTRICT ASSESS ITS SCHOOL SECURITY NEEDS?
As Peter Blauvelt (1987) states, "A school administrator cannot control
unwanted and unacceptable behavior without timely and accurate security
data." He details a procedure for data recording, including a sample "Incident
Profile Form" on which the exact nature, time and place of the offense,
descriptions of the offender and victim, and actions taken by the school
Robert J. Rubel, director of the National Alliance for Safe Schools
(NASS), has developed a "Process Guide" that adapts crime analysis techniques
to the school environment, reports Valerie Smith (1984). Disciplinary infractions
and incidents of crime are documented and coded according to parameters
similar to Blauvelt's. The data can then be analyzed "to identify patterns
or trends and to develop intervention and prevention strategies," Smith
says. Using these techniques, Duval County Public Schools in Florida identified
the noon hour as the time of most thefts. Shortening the lunch period and
posting off-limits areas dramatically decreased petty thefts (Smith 1984).
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) presents examples
of "Model Report Systems" developed by five school districts and gives
suggestions for assessment and reporting systems (AASA 1981).
WHAT PREVENTIVE SECURITY MEASURES ARE EFFECTIVE?
Alarm systems can effectively reduce vandalism and burglaries. Due to
the expense of installation and operation, Lanny R. Gamble and his colleagues
(1987) emphasize the importance of careful planning to choose a cost-effective
system appropriate to the particular school. They suggest that after surveying
the equipment available, administrators should consult a qualified engineer
with no vested interest before making a decision.
Metal detectors are expensive and controversial. In a 1988 New York
City pilot program, security guards checked for weapons with hand-held
metal detectors. No guns were confiscated in the schools, but approximately
200 weapons were found nearby, apparently dropped by students when they
saw the detectors (Suzanne Harper 1989). A Detroit program using metal
detectors was challenged legally and ultimately abandoned, "partly because
of the difficulties in herding students through the gates in time for class"
(Del Stover 1988).
Traditional methods can help protect school property and personnel without
a large initial investment. The systematic use of heavy-duty locks, special
key-handling procedures, fencing, identification cards, hall passes, and
visitor policies is called "target hardening" (Gamble and others). Blauvelt
gives a number of crime-prevention tips, ranging from inventory procedures
to suggesting teachers collect money during the first period if students
bring money to school for a special purpose.
Supervision is important both in controlling student problems and in
preventing intrusions. Schools may assign staff to patrol halls or cafeterias,
have parents and community volunteers monitor reception areas, or hire
security guards. New York City spends $43 million on a 2,050-member security
staff (Stover). A police liaison program proved highly successful at Rich
East High School in Park Forest, Illinois. In addition to providing security,
the officers served as a source of expertise for school officials and developed
friendly relations with students (Moriarty and Fitzgerald 1989).
HOW CAN ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR BE CHANGED TO MAKE SCHOOLS SAFER?
First of all, it is important to establish clear, consistent discipline
in the school environment. Greenbaum states, "High expectations, respect,
trust and positive reinforcement of good behavior are found consistently
in schools demonstrating good discipline....If, on the other hand, the
atmosphere is one of hostility and insensitivity in which students are
continually subjected to criticism and failure, serious disciplinary problems
and criminal behaviors are likely to erupt." Stover describes the principal's
role in setting the tone of a school, including encouraging cooperation
among staff members, being personally visible, promoting student involvement,
and seeing that students and staff with personal problems get help.
Raising security consciousness is also important. Blauvelt suggests
discussing security with both students and staff and involving the entire
school community in identifying security problems and formulating plans
to cope with them. Emergency drills can prepare both students and staff
to react to a crisis (Harper).
Cooperation between school and community is important. "You need a multifaceted,
comprehensive approach that involves students, teachers, administrators,
parents, community leaders, and the police and courts," says Ronald Stephens
of NASS (Stover).
Reaching out to students with violent tendencies and teaching them basic
social skills is a promising preventive measure. A twenty-two-year research
project at the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that eight-year-olds
who displayed aggressive, antisocial behaviors were much more likely to
commit crimes as adults, and transmitted their own aggressive tendencies
to their children (Stuart Greenbaum 1989). Greenbaum cites evidence suggesting
that educators can help break this vicious cycle. For example, an antibullying
campaign initiated in 1983 in Norway reduced bullying and victim problems
by 50 percent in two years.
Teachers may not be equipped to teach conflict resolution or to deal
with violent youths. As William Wayson states, "There are tricks of the
trade that teachers don't learn. They don't look into the eyes of students
to see if they're on drugs or angry, so they move in too close and violate
personal space" (Stover).
Special training can help give teachers the tools they need. Greenbaum
recommends techniques for discouraging aggressive behavior, teaching appropriate
skills instead, and coping with violence when it occurs. Walter Doyle reviews
classroom management techniques, and Edmund Emmer and Amy Aussiker survey
the effectiveness of four classroom discipline programs (Oliver Moles 1989).
WHAT IF PREVENTIVE MEASURES FAIL?
Despite careful efforts, acts of violence will occur. Each school should
have a written crisis plan assigning staff members specific roles in case
of emergency (Harper). Most authors agree all schools should have intercom
systems. School officials should have plans for communicating with "students,
parents, staff, law enforcement personnel, emergency medical services,
the media and hospitals" (Harper).
Clumsy handling of the aftermath of a crisis may cause additional trauma
to victims. June Feder (1989) reports on assaulted New York City school
staff members. While emotionally vulnerable and often injured, victims
were typically shuffled from room to room, given lengthy forms to fill
out, and given little emotional support. Later, fellow staff often treated
victims insensitively, unconsciously denying that violence could happen
to them. Administrators should educate themselves and staff about victims'
emotional needs before an assault occurs.
An entire community may need therapeutic care after a crisis such as
the shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California. School
systems should determine what mental health resources are available in
case of such an event. The NSSC recommends that schools be kept open for
counseling and information for several days after a traumatic event, and
that counseling services be made available for months, to school staff
and administrators as well as to parents and children (Harper).
WHAT IS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY?
Henry Lufler suggests that during the "Litigation Explosion" of the
'70s, pessimistic expectations about court intervention "may have caused
school personnel to become overly cautious when dealing with discipline...issues"
(Moles). In reality, Lufler points out that threats outnumbered actual
lawsuits, and the initial filing of unusual suits was more widely publicized
than their generally unsuccessful final outcomes.
A number of court cases in the '80s produced rulings that stressed
schools' responsibility for students' safety. Schools are expected to provide
a physical environment that suits the purposes of an intellectual institution
Administrators who examine their security systems and take conscientious
steps to safeguard students and staff may not be able to prevent all crime,
but they can protect their schools from liability in court (Harper).
American Association of School Administrators. REPORTING: VIOLENCE,
VANDALISM AND OTHER INCIDENTS IN SCHOOLS. Arlington, Virginia: AASA, 1981.
39 pages. ED 208 603.
Blauvelt, Peter D. "School Security Management." THE PRACTITIONER 13,4
(June 1987):1-11. Reston, Virginia: National Association of Secondary School
Principals, 1987. ED 284 344.
Feder, June. "Crime's Aftermath." SCHOOL SAFETY [no vol no.] (Spring
1989):26-29. EJ 398 977.
Gamble, Lanny R.; Curtis P. Sellers; and Charles E. Bone. "School Building
Intrusions: Prevention Strategies." SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS 53,6 (June
1987):18-21. EJ 357 978.
Greenbaum, Stuart, and others. SET STRAIGHT ON BULLIES. Malibu, California:National
School Safety Center, September 1989. 89 pages. ED 312 744.
Harper, Suzanne. SCHOOL CRISIS PREVENTION AND RESPONSE. NSSC Resource
Paper. Malibu, California:National School Safety Center, September 1989.
24 pages plus copied articles. ED 311 600.
Moles, Oliver C. (Ed.) STRATEGIES TO REDUCE STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR. Washington,
D.C.:Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of
Education, September 1989.
Moriarty, Anthony R., and Patrick J. Fitzgerald. "We Made Police Power
a Positive Force in Our Schools." EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR 11,2 (February 1989):13-14,25.
EJ 385 245.
Smith, Valerie. "Tracking School Crime." AMERICAN SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY
57,1 (September 1984):54,58-59. EJ 306 700.
Stover, Del. "School Violence Is Rising, and Your Staff Is the Target."
EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR 10,10 (October 1988): 15-16,19-21,33. EJ 378 719.