Causes and recommendations for a plan of action

The root of school violence: causes and recommendations for a plan of action

Earnestine Bennett-Johnson

American violence has filtered into not only its college and university campuses, but that violence has now filtered into high schools, junior high schools, and even elementary schools (Bennett-Johnson, 2003). With the beginning of the 21st century, the United States had approximately 22.9 million property crime (73%), with 8.1 million (26%) crimes of violence; over 20,000 victims of family violence involving children; and nearly 1/4 (23%) of public school students saying they had been a victim of an act of violence at school.

Crime and violence among juveniles are becoming more frequent occurrences daily (United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001, 1997; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1996). Violent crimes in America are on the decrease, although crime in general does not appear to be. American crime and violence have overflowed onto the college/university campus, and are now affecting senior high, junior high and elementary schools. As antisocial behaviors continue within the campus setting, they may effect learning which needs to take place in a “conducive environment” (Bennett-Johnson, 1997a).

This research will present suggested causes of school crime and also suggest possible solutions. As violence within our nation increases it will continue to filter into the (young) adult and juvenile population(s), with an inevitable increase within the lower grades among children. There must be an understanding of how America’s crimes and violent past, have created a pattern of deviance, the college/university campus and schools will not he able to escape.


In the prior centuries, no one would imagine that crime and violence at the public school level would mean rape, robbery, murder, arson, and many other heinous crimes; much like the crimes within the larger society (Bennett-Johnson, 1997a; Bennett-Johnson, 1997b). With the beginning of the 21st century, the United States had nearly 1/4 (23%) of public school students saying they had been the victims of an act of violence at school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). According to researchers, urban environments tend to have higher poverty rates (Jargowsky 1994; Jargowsky & Bane 1990; Kasarda 1992, 1993; Mincy, Sawhill & Wolf 1990; Ricketts & Sawhill 1988), with the level of poverty being great. This “concentrated poverty” lent itself to more crime, a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, concentrated poverty and various types of “deviance” such as drug use, higher incidences of teenage pregnancy and more violent crime.

The condition of poverty within the urban environment allows for joblessness and irregular employment, with most people within the area who lie “idle” for large periods of time, if not almost indefinitely. That condition, unfortunately lends itself to those children and offspring who pattern themselves after those “role models”. That “modeling” continues to behaviors such as using weapons, being easily provoked, being unable to solve simple problems without becoming upset, etc. These continue by creating other types of situations such as other types of criminal activity. In most urban environments, crime is a “way of life.” When assessing the family incomes of children, most who were victims came from family situations whose incomes were $7,500 or less per year (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002).

The School Violence Resource Center (2002) suggests that an urban environment has certain “risk factor domains.” These domains include: individual risk factors; family risk factors; community risk factors; and, school risk factors. Individual risk factors include delinquent friends, aggressiveness of the individual, any substance abuse, lower intelligence, and birth complications. Family risk factors include any history of family crime and violence, lower or lack of expectations by parents, the lack of monitoring by parents, parental involvement in drugs, and child abuse and neglect. Community factors include the availability of weapons, drugs, violence, large numbers of broken homes/families, high transient populations, and economic deprivation within the immediate area. School risk factors include such things as early delinquent behavior(s), academic failure, lack of commitment to school, and gang involvement (School Violence Resource Center, 2002).

When developing a plan of action or a plan of prevention, each school should involve community services, staff, parents, teachers, and students. Community services may include obtaining information from fire, medical, and law enforcement specialists, ensuring that the plan is in conjunction with whatever the school=s governing body suggests. Evaluation procedures and routes should be identified and posted in various locations. This should be done after evaluating the school=s building plans to find vulnerable areas. These vulnerable areas may include doors which don=t open, areas which are more easily accessible to the “criminal element,” etc. After assessing the school=s building plans, discussing an evaluation plan(s), getting to safe areas should be practiced by the school community-at-large. A system of communication should also be in place should communications fail.

Once a general plan has been developed, principals, teachers, staff and students should ensure that everyone is familiar with the plan and there are practices to ensure that all exit an adverse situation (i.e., bomb threats, etc.). Teachers and staff members should be identified to fill particular roles, and may need to be trained in things such as general first-aid, etc. Key roles should be identified, as well as procedures for various types of problems/situations. Meeting areas for classes/building areas should be developed, as well as procedures for contacting needed agencies. Local numbers for emergency workers should be posted in various locations. Drills should be conducted for various types of adverse situations, with teachers, staff, and students completely rehearsed so panic does not enter the situation (making it worse). Various companies and bookstores supply information concerning lesson plans, curricula, and activities focusing on crime and violence in schools. Some of the information includes subjects such as bullying, anger-management skills, conflict resolution, character education healthy choices, harassment, violence prevention, drug abuse prevention, etc. (School Crime and Violence Center, 2002).

According to the SCVC (School Crime and Violence Center), teachers must report to the principal or administration any threats, and signs of discussions about weapons, violence, etc. Teachers must also be aware of possible “gang” activity within the school. They must set the “parameters” of “normal” behavior within the class and school, and these must be enforced school-wide. Regular discussions with parents would help teachers understand if any of their students are going through any particularly difficult situations at home or within the community environment. Classroom teachers should note any adverse changes in students and discuss these changes with parents, etc. They must also encourage student-led anti-violence activities. Teachers should, with parents, regularly celebrate/publish student accomplishments. They must all enforce whatever school policies the district and school have instituted. Teachers must also learn and teach conflict resolution and anger management techniques to their students.

Principals must work with parents, teachers, and students to help establish “zero” violence tolerance policies. They must work with teachers to have continuous drills and establish emergency procedures. Principals must establish “zero” tolerance policies and violence and weapons. They must also have procedures in place for contacting parents and emergency workers. They must enlist the services of parents and constantly be in contact with parents to offer training and prevention tips and techniques. Principals must establish procedures when communications are “cut-off,” for contacting emergency workers and/or parents during emergency situations (School Violence Resource Center, 2002). It is suggested that EVERY school have a “crisis response team” which are people designed for specific responsibilities which include a staff person with (some) medical knowledge/training; an on-site school counselor or a staff/teacher person who has had (some) counseling techniques training; a person to whom accidents/incidents are reported; persons responsible for notifying emergency officials and parents; and, someone who maintains Awalkie-talkies in case of communication disruption, etc. The principal/teachers/staff/students should be aware of various types of alarms and whistles (disasters, intruders, bomb treats, suspicious mail, etc.


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Mincy, R., Sawhill, I. V., & Wolf, D. A. (1990). The Underclass: Definition and Measurement. Science 248:450-53.

National Center for Education Statistics (2002). Violence and discipline problems in U.S. Public Schools. Washington, D. C.: The United States Department of Education.

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