Safe, healthy schools are where kids thrive academically and socially. In fact, school safety is linked to improved student and school outcomes, including school-wide test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates. When students feel safe, they can focus on learning and achieving academically as well as socially. Conversely, when students don’t feel safe, their learning is affected because risky behaviors and acts of violence undermine teaching and learning. At-risk students can be a threat to themselves as well as the school community.
Impact of School Climate
School climate refers to the quality and types of interactions between and among young people and adults in a school. It plays a key role in the safety and health of a school. Members of a school community (students, faculty, administration, organizations in the community, state and local government, etc.) all have the ability to promote and sustain a positive school climate that facilitates both student and school success.
Industry statistics show that a positive school climate improves student motivation and achievement and decreases risky behaviors because it positively impacts the mental and behavioral health of students. Positive school climates foster trust amongst everyone in the school community, which is particularly important for keeping the school community safe. Students who feel safe, don’t fear retribution, and trust that authorities will take further action, will report disturbing student behaviors and communications.
The Critical Role of Bystanders
Safety at school is the responsibility of everyone within the school and the combined resources of federal, state, and local government, school boards, law enforcement, and the public. However, bystanders—friends, classmates, or other peers—play a critical role within this group. NTAC research has found that students display a variety of observable concerning behaviors as they escalate toward violence and that bystanders most observe plots, comments, and behaviors. Reporting this information enables authorities to step in and address the situation before things escalate to violence.
Plotters or those who conduct violent acts typically make their intentions known in verbal statements, electronic messaging, and/or online posts, and bystanders typically see these concerning communications or behaviors. In the 2021 NTAC report, Averting Targeted School Violence, it is noted that plotters shared their intentions about carrying out an attack in 94% of cases reviewed between 2008 and 2017. Outside of co-conspirators, communications about plots were most often observed by the plotters’ friends, classmates, or other peers (69%).
Threat Assessment Enables Prevention
The NTAC conducted a comprehensive analysis of school attacks that occurred from 2008-2017 and those attacks that were successfully averted from 2006-2018. The group has concluded that a Threat Assessment Model is the best method of preventing acts of violence and identifying at-risk students and getting them the help they need. The NTAC has developed a fundamental understanding of what can lead students to target classmates and school staff and their observable behaviors on the pathway to violence. Knowing what to look for and having a reporting system in place that addresses these behaviors saves lives.
All schools need a Threat Assessment Model that is well-communicated, well-documented, and well-understood. It enables the school community, including student bystanders, to report concerning behaviors without fear of retribution and with the trust that further action will be taken as needed by individuals of authority.
Targeted school violence is preventable. To learn more about STOPit Solutions, download A Guide to Comprehensive Safety Solutions for K-12 Schools.