Concern over School violence

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Introduction

School violence appears to be a significant concern in today's society As people read their daily paper or listen to the news, the topic of school violence frequently appears in the headlines. Articles describing children committing major crimes, such as armed robbery, murder, and assault with a deadly weapon, are front page material. Incidents of school violence, such as a six year old who killed his classmate in Michigan or the massacre at Columbine, horrify and give the impression that violence committed by children in schools is raging. However, such headlines may be misleading. Studies have shown that school violence is not increasing but is actually declining

Current Level of Violence

Currently, research shows that the number of violent incidents occurring in school is not increasing. In 1993, there were about 155 school-related crimes for every 1,000 students(age 12 to 18), but in 1997 that figure fell to 102 (Grier & Chaddock, 1999). More recent data on school crime raises questions about how frequently crime really does occur in the schools (Furlong & Morrison, 1994). Morrison and Furlong (1994)found that information on school violence is sketchy and contradictory. This is due to differing definitions of violence.According to a study conducted jointly by the Justice Departmentand the Education Department in 1998, there was no significant change from 1989 to 1995 in the percentage of students reporting victimization of violent acts. In comparing the data, there was only a .1 percent increase from 1989 to 1995. Actual self reported victimization in the United States has been relatively stable since 1973, peaking in 1981 (U.S. Department of Justice, 1992). In spite of the conflicting portrayals of school violence, the data shows that schools are still less violent than general society (Dear, Scott, & Marshall, 1994). However, what is important to this study is not so much the statistics, rather it is the idea that violence in the schools should not be occurring at all

Perception of Violence

With the assistance of the media, school violence is perceived by society to be an increasing problem. Between 1982 and 1993, 49.5% of news articles containing the words "school violence" were published recently in 1992 and 1993 (Melvyl System Data Bases, 1982-1993). It is media attention, such as the massacre at Columbine that is leading today's general public and educators to perceive that school violence is increasing (Furlong & Morrison, 1994). When in fact, the real problem is not that school violence occurs more regularly, but that it occurs at all. With the extensive media attention and the public's preoccupation with school violence, there is reason to believe that the majority of educators in public schools will perceive school violence as a growing area of concern (Furlong & Chung, 1995). This may lead some to conclude that America's schools are unsafe and even characterize them as battlegrounds or war zones (Stephens, 1997; U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 1998). It is from research such as this that the hypothesis for this proposed study came about

Effects on Education

The effect of perceived school violence needs to be addressed. As these perceptions about school violence continue and the level of concern increases, children's sense of safety in school will most likely decrease. As a result, the education children receive may be negatively impacted. The opportunity for a successful education is seriously jeopardized when students, staff members, and the community fear going to school and remaining after (Mulhern, Dibble, & Berkan, 1994). The concern about school violence is continuing to grow at a very rapid pace and without further research to determine effective preventative measures, public schools may no longer be the education of the future (Stevenson, 1994). Currently, no research has identifed the specific cause(s) of school violence, however, it is happening and something needs to be done (Berger, 1974; Poland, 1997). For many students, school is a key resource in their life (Morrison, Furlong, & Morrison, 1994). It is a place of opportunity where they can explore different things without fear. However, if there is a perceived fear for their safety, the resource no longer exists. According to Abraham Maslow (1970) and his hierarchy of needs, safety is a basic need and must be met in order for children to achieve the cognitive outcomes that we intend as a result of schooling. If school does not fulfil that need, a child's education will be negatively impacted. Fears and concerns of school violence may lead some to believe school is no longer the ideal place to learn and grow. A study of school violence done in 1995 by Chandler, Chapman, Rand, and Taylor, stated that 14.6 percent of students aged 12 through 19 reported violence or property victimization at school (U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 1998). This means that almost 15 of every 100 students have experienced a violent act in school. According to Howard M. Knoff (2000), continuing issues of school safety and students' mental health needs have never been so professionally and publicly prominent as over the past two years. School is a place parents drop their loved ones off and trust that they are in a conducive learning and growing environment. A basic need children have is to be safe and secure (Furlong, Morrison, Chung, Bates, & Morrison, 1997). As children fear the level of safety in a place where they are expected to thrive, (Furlong & Morrison, 1994), their level of education is going to be greatly affected. School is a place with the goal of educating individuals. So, anything that adversely affects an individual's ability to learn should be of considerable concern. Teachers report that crisis-related problems, such as threats of violence, affect a students' ability to concentrate (Stevenson, 1994) and are commonplace in preventing students from progressing educationally (Pitcher & Poland, 1992). As a result, these perceptions could be of significance to whether a child is receiving an optimal level of education. When a child's educational opportunities are threatened, there is a need for further research to explore the problem. It is evident that violence in the schools does affect children, but it cannot be forgotten that it impacts the staff too. A recent example of this occurred in Florida where a student killed his teacher. Teachers, administrators, and other school personnel enter the school each morning and must face the same challenges and fears related to school violence. As Weaver (1993) stated that students cannot learn, teachers cannot teach, and parents are reluctant to send their children to schools where crime and violence are perceived as an ordinary part of the school day. The perceived violence in the schools affects everyone.

Actions taken by Schools

With the numerous effects of violence on a child's education, there is not only a need for further research, there is also a need for society to take action. According to the U.S. Department of Education (1998), violence that occurs in the community has found its way inside the schoolhouse door. Society needs to be prepared and willing to respond and act on what is currently happening. One after another, school communities across the country, (King & Muhr, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 1998) have been forced to face the fact that violence can happen to them. Even though these experiences are troubling and unforeseen, they can not prevent society from taking the initiative to act (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). The 1997-1998 school year served as a dramatic wake-up call to the fact that guns do come to school and are used by some to kill (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Through acts such as shootings, the topic of school violence has become a "national epidemic" (Gorski & Pilotto, 1993). It appears that the attempts to make the public aware of current situations have taken on a "bandwagon characteristic" (Morrison & Furlong, 1994). As the media continued to inform society of the latest attacks in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Colorado, society began to realize the seriousness and genuineness of the situation. Communities became aware that this could possibly happen to them and actions, or plans, began to be developed by school districts in preparation of such acts. School response to violence typically takes one of two forms: crisis intervention policies or prevention response plans. According to Wolfe (1995) and Chandras (1999), crisis intervention approaches are often the treatment of choice in a large number of schools experiencing violence. This is because many schools believe it is not necessary to fix something before it is a problem. Such approaches posit that the actual crisis is not the focus situation, rather it is the individuals' perceptions and responses to the situation. Crisis intervention policies are reactive rather than preventative. In contrast, others find that preventative actions and plans are the key (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Preventative measures can reduce violence and troubling behaviors in school (Poland, 1994; Knoff, 2000; Johnson & Johnson, 1995; Stevenson, 1994; Pitcher & Poland, 1994). Those who choose to use a preventative strategy believe that through education and awareness, one has the necessary knowledge to stop an act before it is fully carried out. Some of the most promising prevention and early intervention strategies involve the entire educational community - administrators, teachers, families, students, support staff, and community members - working together to form positive relationships within the school

School Based Prevention Plans

As previously stated, prevention plans are one option school districts have chosen to initiate in response to school violence. A prevention plan can be very beneficial, however, the level of benefit it offers is limited to its effectiveness and appropriate Implementation. According to Stephens (1994), of the National School Safety Center, in order for a school safety plan to be effective it must be comprehensive, continuing, and broad based. Comprehensive means that it must build on previous plans and ideas. Continuing means that it is effective from this point forward with no exceptions. Broad based means it must cover a wide range of possible acts and provide guidelines to define them. Prevention plans appear to be a necessary tool in school districts, however, the development and implementation of them can be very tiresome and challenging. Individual school districts have different ideas of what should be included in a prevention plan. Some include a code of conduct, specific rules and consequences that can accommodate student differences on a case-by-case basis (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Others provide for collaboration between schools, law enforcement, the courts, community agencies, parents, and the public (Mulhern, Dibble, & Berkan, 1994). To ate, there is no right or wrong answer on what should be ncluded in a prevention plan. The plan needs to be appropriate for the district and simple enough to be effectively carried out. The details need to be developed by a team of individuals that are aware of the various situations that could occur in their district. Prevention plans should not only provide ideas pertaining to "after the fact", but they should also offer options, or ideas, relating to the cause or warning signs of problem behaviors. School personnel may fail to recognize problem situations which, left unaddressed, can precipitate crisis events or worsen an existing crisis (Cornell & Sheras, 1998). The implementation of a prevention plan is seen to possibly eliminate, or at least reduce, the room for error. In a prevention plan, there are certain steps to follow if a particular action occurs or if signals of a violent act occur. This is important because the early warning signs allow people to act responsibly by getting help for the individual before problems escalate (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Being able to recognize the signs of an individual in trouble, or considering violence, allows educators to act appropriately through following the guidelines of the prevention plan. Along with the use of prevention plans, other various forms of prevention have been explored. Incidences have led schools to try increasing the number of security personnel, installing two way intercoms in every room, using identification cards, and assigning more police to arrival and dismissal times (Pitcher & Poland, 1992). However, despite these attempts, violent acts persist.

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