Smart Investments for Safer Schools

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Author(s): Center for American Progress

  • Bayliss Fiddiman
  • Ashley Jeffrey
  • Scott Sargrad

Published: Dec. 19, 2018

Report Intro/Brief:
“On April 20, 1999, the nation watched in horror as the news cycle flooded with images of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two students killed 12 classmates and one teacher and wounded many others inside. The shooting at Columbine High School marked a turning point for the American public school system. This mass school shooting was the deadliest act of school violence at the time, and it made Americans feel less confident in the security of school buildings, which were once considered safe places for students to learn and grow. State and federal governments immediately responded to the Columbine shooting by investing in visible security measures such as school resource officers (SROs), metal detectors, and surveillance equipment.

In the aftermath of more recent school shootings, governments at the state and federal levels have allocated significant new resources to keep students safe and avert future tragedies. Too often, however, these important resources are used to implement more stringent security measures in schools, including hiring SROs, installing security devices such as metal detectors, and even arming teachers with guns. Although this focus on physical—and visible—safety measures is understandable in the wake of a tragedy, it results in the adoption of approaches to school violence that have not been proven to advance school safety. Moreover, there is some evidence that safety measures such as SROs and metal detectors create a less welcoming environment for students, particularly students of color. It is therefore important to invest in proven, evidence-based solutions that go beyond providing visual representations of safety to create a genuinely safer school environment. Such approaches include violence prevention programs, teacher trainings, and peer mediation interventions.

This report mentions Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School because these were the locations of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history and prompted an immediate response from lawmakers nationwide. However, many of the policies enacted in the wake of incidents like these have the unintended impact of making many students, particularly students of color, feel much less safe in their schools. These students are often left out of conversations around interventions to school violence and school shootings, yet those same interventions make their education environments less safe. For this reason, this report addresses why the call to harden schools places these students further at risk.

Furthermore, a single-minded focus on hardening schools funnels critical resources into the pockets of private companies that are prepared to profit from tragedy. Although these companies’ products may seem to make students safer, there is inconclusive evidence as to whether they achieve this goal. It would be more productive in the long term for the federal government, states, and school districts to invest in creating a positive, safe, and supportive school climate.

This report considers the United States’ history of school violence and the subsequent investments in stringent security measures to date. It presents evidence as to why this response largely fails to increase school safety. It also examines the corresponding growth in the school security industry, which does not provide evidence-based solutions. Finally, the report offers policy recommendations that encourage investment in strategies to improve school climate and keep students, teachers, and schools safe.”

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