School Violence

Young women's version of this guide

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the term “school violence” refers to violence that disrupts learning and occurs on school property before, during, or after school as well as during school sponsored events. School violence includes anything from bullying and threats to fights and physical attacks with a weapon. The CDC has developed lots of programs to help us understand and decrease school violence and make our home and school environments safer..

Why does violence in schools happen?

While bullying, threats, and fights are unfortunately still too common in schools, school shootings are fortunately rare but always a terrible tragedy. Since 2009, there have been 180 school shootings in the United States.  Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in teens between the ages of 10 to 24 years old, after accidents (unintentional injuries) and suicide, but the majority are not in schools.  School violence doesn’t result from one cause or in one type of school. Violence can occur in rural, city, and suburban schools. Violence of this level doesn’t usually occur at random, and there may be warning signs of mental illness, previous trauma, isolation or trouble making friends. In studies, teens involved in violence are more likely to use  drugs and alcohol, participate in risky activities either alone or with friends, and/or express thoughts of suicide. Students, teachers, and parents can help improve the school climate by creating a structured environment where everyone feels included.

Whom can I talk to if I’m worried about violence in my school?

It’s totally normal to be anxious (worried) about possible violence in your school because, unfortunately, it can happen unexpectedly.  A great place to start is by having a conversation with a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor. Letting someone know how you are feeling is super important and can be helpful when working to understand your feelings. The trusted adult may not have all the answers, but they may be able to show you some of the things that you can do to keep you safe. Talking with a teacher or guidance counselor can be helpful because they can review practical tips to keep students safe that have been created by the school (many are similar to that of a fire drill or tornado drill).

What if I am feeling unsafe at school?

Violence can either be physical (touching, hitting, etc.) or verbal (bullying, threats); either way it is always unacceptable, no matter where or when it occurs. The most important thing you can do is tell someone, such as a trusted adult. It’s important to remember that you might not be the only person experiencing violence and you have the potential to help someone else as well.

Is there anything I can do to help stop or prevent school violence?

There are many things you can do to help you feel safe while as school. Team work and kindness are important in addressing safety at school.  Your school is responsible for keeping the students safe; however, you can talk to your friends and teachers about starting a safety committee to lessen bullying and increase belonging. You can also work with other students to develop mediation club where students are trained to help lessen tension among fellow students. Most of all, you can be a role model by helping others and spreading kindness in your school. For example: watch for the classmate who’s always sitting alone in the cafeteria, on the bus, or on the buddy bench and befriend them! You might just brighten their day by striking up a friendly conversation. Spreading kindness and developing friendships is important for every school! It’s also very important, that if you ever hear or see a classmate or teacher talking about violence towards others or weapons of any kind that you speak with a trusted adult immediately. Telling a trusted adult immediately could keep you and your community safe from violence. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend or your favorite teacher, no one should ever talk or joke about violence towards others. Remember the motto “see something, say something.”

What is a safety drill?

Your school may have practice safety drills in the event of an act of violence, similar to fire or tornado drills. According to the CDC, 7% of youth have missed 1 or more days of school because they felt unsafe at school.  The hopes is that you’ll never need to use these drills in real life. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

  • Participate in your school’s safety drills. The drills are usually hosted by the local police departments. Many of these men and women will be the ones who respond in the event of a real emergency, which means it’s a great time to ask questions.
  • It might be scary, but imagine yourself in a real situation and make a plan with your teacher and classmates.
  • If violence were to happen at school, your teacher may ask you make yourself safe, one way to do this may be using a classroom item to block the doorway (i.e. a cabinet, table, or chair). This will help stop anyone from coming in or out of the classroom, keeping everyone safe.
  • Your teacher may also ask you and your classmates to find a safe space (away from doors or windows) in the event of school violence.
  • Work together as a class to keep everyone calm and quiet. Team work is super important here, try holding hands and sending a squeeze down the line (similar to the game telephone).
Remember school violence can happen before, during, or after school and extends beyond bullying. Our world can sometimes be unpredictable and violence can happen without warning. It’s important to always be alert and aware of your surroundings whether it’s at school, the mall, or at the movies. Make a mental note of the exits closest to you and what you would do in the event of a dangerous situation or an emergency. Find ways to spread kindness in your community.