Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools

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Author(s): The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

  • Melissa Diliberti
  • Michael Jackson
  • Samuel Correa
  • Zoe Padgett
  • Rachel Hansen

Published: July 25, 2019

Report Intro/Brief:
“Using data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), this report presents findings both on crime and violence in U.S. public schools and on the practices and programs schools have implemented to promote school safety. Developed and managed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, SSOCS has been administered seven times, most recently during the 2017–18 school year…

SSOCS collects information from public school principals about the prevalence of violent and serious violent crimes occurring in their schools. Portions of this survey also focus on school security measures, school security staff, the availability of mental health services, parent and community involvement at school, and staff training. SSOCS data can be used to examine the relationship between violent incidents in schools and the programs, practices, and policies schools have in place to prevent and reduce crime.

Selected Findings:

  • During the 2017–18 school year, an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 65 percent reported having at least one nonviolent incident.
  • Some 66 percent of schools reported at least one physical attack or fight without a weapon, compared with 3 percent of schools that reported such an attack with a weapon.
  • A higher percentage of schools located in towns reported at least one incident of theft at school (44 percent) than did schools located in cities (36 percent), suburbs (32 percent), and rural areas (29 percent). In contrast, a higher percentage of schools located in cities reported at least one incident of vandalism (40 percent) than did schools located in suburbs (33 percent), towns (31 percent), and rural areas (27 percent).
  • During the 2017–18 school year, there were an estimated 3,600 incidents nationwide involving the possession of a firearm or explosive device at school.
  • A higher percentage of middle schools reported that student bullying occurred at school at least once a week (28 percent) than did high schools (16 percent) or primary schools (9 percent). Also, higher percentages of middle and high schools reported that cyberbullying occurred at school or away from school at least once a week (33 and 30 percent, respectively) than did primary schools (5 percent).
  • Some 35 percent of disciplinary actions taken by schools in response to student involvement in the use or possession of a weapon other than a firearm or explosive device involved an out-of-school suspension lasting 5 or more days, 14 percent involved the transfer of students to specialized schools, and 5 percent involved the removal of students with no continuing services for at least the remainder of the school year.
  • Lower percentages of schools located in towns (38 percent) and rural areas (34 percent) reported having a threat assessment team during the 2017–18 school year than did schools located in cities (50 percent) and suburbs (49 percent).
  • Of the written plans that schools may have to address various crisis scenarios, the ones reported most commonly were for natural disasters (94 percent), active shooters (92 percent), and bomb threats or incidents (91 percent).
  • Among schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment, half (50 percent) reported involving students in restorative circles. Lower percentages of schools with less than 5 percent, 5–20 percent, and 20–50 percent minority enrollment reported involving students in restorative circles(28, 35, and 38 percent, respectively).
  • Schools were asked whether certain factors limited their efforts to reduce or prevent crime “in a major way.” The three factors reported most often were inadequate funds (36 percent); a lack of alternative placements or programs for disruptive students (34 percent); and federal, state, or district policies on disciplining special education students (19 percent).
  • About 46 percent of traditional public schools had a School Resource Officer present at school at least once a week, compared with only 19 percent of charter schools. Conversely, a higher percentage of charter schools than traditional public schools had a security guard or other security personnel present at least once a week (35 vs. 21 percent).
  • A higher percentage of schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement officer present who routinely carried a firearm (79 percent) than schools with 500–999 students (52 percent), schools with 300–499 students (36 percent), and schools with less than 300 students (34 percent).
  • In school year 2017–18, about 51 percent of schools provided diagnostic mental health assessments to evaluate students for mental health disorders and 38 percent provided treatment to students for mental health disorders.”

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