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Institute of Education Sciences

New Data Available on Crime and Safety in Public Schools

The prevalence of crime in America’s public schools continues to be a topic of much concern and discussion among parents, students, educators, and policymakers. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides the latest data to help inform conversations and debate about school safety.

The report, Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools, presents new information from the 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). SSOCS is a nationally representative survey of school principals that collects detailed information on both incidents of crime in U.S. public schools and the practices and programs schools have implemented to promote school safety.

This report presents selected findings on a wide range of topics, including violent and nonviolent incidents, disciplinary problems and actions, security measures, security staff, mental health services, and limitations on crime prevention. In addition to presenting updates for data that have been published in prior SSOCS reports, the new report highlights topics not covered in previous reports, including the number of incidents involving the use or possession of a firearm or explosive device at school as well as the percentage of schools that have “panic buttons” or silent alarms that directly connect to law enforcement in the event of an incident.

Data on both school crime incidents and school safety practices are available by various school characteristics, such as school type, enrollment size, and locale (i.e., whether the school is located in an urban, suburban, or rural area).  

One key finding highlighted in the report is that most schools have written plans for various emergency scenarios. In school year 2017–18, the most common types of plans reported were for responses to natural disasters (94 percent), active shooters (92 percent), and bomb threats or incidents (91 percent).

 



 

The report also presented other key findings from the 2017–18 school year:

  • Seventy-one percent of U.S. public schools reported that at least one violent incident occurred at school during the school year.
  • Three percent of schools reported that there was at least one incident involving the possession of a firearm or explosive device at their school.
  • Forty-six 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 of traditional public schools had a security guard or other security personnel present at least once a week (35 vs. 21 percent).
  • Restorative circles were used more frequently in schools with a higher enrollment of minority students. A restorative circle is a formal mediation process led by a facilitator who brings affected parties of a problem together to explore what happened, reflect on their roles, and find solutions that address individual and community concerns. Among schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment, half (50 percent) reported involving students in restorative circles. However, in schools with lower minority enrollment (20 to 50 percent), a lower percentage of schools reported involving students in restorative circles (38 percent).
  • Fifty-one 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.

To access the full report, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019061.pdf. SSOCS:2018 data files will be released later this year. Due to the sensitive nature of SSOCS data, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full SSOCS:2018 restricted-use data file. A public-use data file—with some sensitive variables removed—will be released after the restricted-use data file.

 

By Sam Correa and Melissa Diliberti (AIR) and Rachel Hansen (NCES)

 

 

New Data Available on Prevalence of Recognized Student Acceptance Groups

Schools can help to foster students’ understanding of diversity and create environments where students feel safe and welcome. One way to do this is by organizing student groups whose purpose is to promote acceptance of other students. The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) collected data on the presence of recognized student acceptance groups during the 2015–16 school year from a nationally representative sample of 3,500 K–12 public schools. The questionnaire asked whether schools had student groups that promote acceptance of students’ sexual orientations[i] and gender identities,[ii] of students with disabilities, and of cultural diversity.

Among all public schools, groups that promote acceptance of students with disabilities were most common. Some 27 percent of schools reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities during the 2015­–16 school year, compared with 21 percent that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity and 12 percent that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities.


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools reporting the presence of recognized student acceptance groups, by school level and purpose of student group: School year 2015–16

1Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. The total also includes combined schools. Combined schools are schools that have a combination of grades that cannot be categorized as primary, middle, or high schools, including K–12 schools. 
2Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one’s emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex. Gender identity was defined for respondents as one’s inner sense of one’s own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth. An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students' sexual orientations and gender identities provided to respondents was a Gay-Straight Alliance.
3An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students with disabilities provided to respondents was Best Buddies.
4An example of a student group to promote acceptance of cultural diversity provided to respondents was a Cultural Awareness Club.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. 
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 37.


All three types of acceptance groups were more common in high schools than in middle or primary schools. The most common type of student acceptance group varied by school level. For example, among middle schools, the percentage of schools that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities (32 percent) was higher than the percentage that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity (22 percent) or acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities (12 percent). This pattern was similar for primary schools. Among high schools, the percentage of schools that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities (50 percent) was higher than the percentage that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities (45 percent).

During the 2015–16 school year, all three types of student acceptance groups were more commonly found in schools in cities and suburbs than in schools in rural areas. For example, 30 percent of schools in cities and 26 percent of schools in suburbs reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity, compared with 10 percent of schools in rural areas.


Figure 2. Percentage of public schools reporting the presence of recognized student acceptance groups, by purpose of student group and school locale: School year 2015–16

1Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one's emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex. Gender identity was defined for respondents as one's inner sense of one's own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth. An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students' sexual orientations and gender identities provided to respondents was a Gay-Straight Alliance.
2An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students with disabilities provided to respondents was Best Buddies.
3An example of a student group to promote acceptance of cultural diversity provided to respondents was a Cultural Awareness Club.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 37.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES, and Melissa Diliberti, AIR


[i]Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one’s emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex.

[ii]Gender identity was defined for respondents as one’s inner sense of one’s own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth.

What Are Threat Assessment Teams and How Prevalent Are They in Public Schools?

As part of the Safe School Initiative, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service authored a report in 2004 that described how schools could establish a threat assessment process “for identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are intended to prevent and reduce school violence and are adapted from the U.S. Secret Service’s threat assessment model.

The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) collected data on the prevalence of threat assessment teams in schools for the first time in 2015–16 from a nationally representative sample of 3,500 K–12 public schools. The questionnaire defined a threat assessment team as “a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are usually composed of some combination of school administrators, teachers, counselors, sworn law enforcement officers, and mental health professionals.

While 42 percent of all public schools reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year, the prevalence of threat assessment teams varied by school characteristics.


Percentage of public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, by school level and enrollment size: School year 2015–16

1Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


For example, a higher percentage of high schools (52 percent) than of middle (45 percent), primary (39 percent), and combined schools (28 percent) reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year. Further, 57 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 1,000 or more students reported having a threat assessment team, compared with 31 percent of schools with an enrollment size of less than 300 students; 40 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 300–499 students; and 45 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 500–999 students.

Threat assessment teams were also more prevalent in schools that had at least one security staff[i] member present at school at least once a week during the 2015–16 school year (48 percent of schools with security staff present vs. 33 percent of schools without security staff present). The percentage of schools reporting a threat assessment team was also higher in schools that reported at least one violent incident[ii] had occurred at school during the 2015–16 school year (44 percent) compared with schools that had no violent incidents (35 percent).

How often a threat assessment team meets can be an indication of how active the team is in the school.  The majority of schools with a threat assessment team in 2015–16 reported that their teams met “on occasion” (62 percent), followed by “at least once a month” (27 percent), “at least once a week” (9 percent), and “never” (2 percent).


Among public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, percentage distribution by frequency of threat assessment team meetings: School year 2015–16

!Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES and Melissa Diliberti, AIR

 

[i] Security staff includes full- or part-time school resource officers, sworn law enforcement officers, or security guards or security personnel present at school at least once a week.

[ii] Violent incidents include rape or attempted rape, sexual assault other than rape (including threatened rape), physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery (taking things by force) with or without a weapon.

 

Explore Data on Mental Health Services in K–12 Public Schools for Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s important for schools to help ensure students are safe and healthy, both physically and mentally, so that learning can occur. In addition to implementing security measures on school campuses, there has been a growing focus on whether schools provide mental health services. In school year 2015–16, some 71 percent of public schools reported having diagnostic assessments for mental health disorders available to students, and 64 percent of schools reported having treatment available. [i]

These data come from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). The 2015–16 SSOCS questionnaire added new questions asking principals to report whether diagnostic assessment and treatment services for mental health were available to students under the official responsibilities of a licensed mental health professional.[ii] Diagnostic assessments are used to identify whether a student has one or more medical and/or mental health diagnoses. Treatment is a clinical service, such as psychotherapy, medication, or counseling, which is intended to lessen or eliminate the symptoms of a disorder.

The prevalence of mental health services varied by school characteristics. In both middle and high schools, diagnostic assessment services were more common than treatment services: 74 percent of middle schools and 79 percent of high schools reported diagnostic assessments were available, compared with 66 percent of middle schools and 69 percent of high schools reporting treatment services were available. Compared to primary schools, a higher percentage of high schools reported that both types of mental health services were available.


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools reporting the availability of mental health services under the official responsibilities of a licensed mental health professional, by type of mental health service and school enrollment size: School year 2015–16

1Mental health disorders were defined for respondents as, collectively, all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.
NOTE: Mental health services are provided by several different types of mental health professionals, each of which have their own training and areas of expertise. The types of professionals who may provide mental health services include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurses, clinical social workers, and professional counselors. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 40.


The percentage of schools with 1,000 or more students that reported having diagnostic assessment services available (80 percent) was higher than the percentages of schools with fewer than 300 students (69 percent), 300–499 students (68 percent), and 500–999 students (71 percent).

The questionnaire also asked principals to report to what extent certain factors limited the school’s efforts to provide mental health services to students. The most common limiting factors reported by schools were inadequate funding (75 percent) and lack of parental support (71 percent).


Figure 2. Percentage of public schools reporting that their efforts to provide mental health services to students were limited in a major or minor way due to specified non-school-level factors: School year 2015–16

1Mental health disorders were defined for respondents as, collectively, all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.
2Mental health services are provided by several different types of mental health professionals, each of which have their own training and areas of expertise. The types of professionals who may provide mental health services include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurses, clinical social workers, and professional counselors. 
3Examples of legal issues provided to respondents were malpractice and insufficient supervision.
NOTE: Respondents were asked to rate the level of limitation in their school’s efforts to provide mental health services to students for each factor. Survey response options included “limits in major way,” “limits in minor way,” or “does not limit." Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 39.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES and Melissa Diliberti, AIR

 

 

[i] Includes services available at school by a mental health professional employed by the school or district; services available at school by a mental health professional other than a school or district employee, funded by the school or district; and services available outside of school by a mental health professional other than a school or district employee, funded by the school or district.

[ii] The 2015–16 questionnaire provided formal definitions for many terms, including at school, diagnostic assessment, mental health disorders, mental health professionals, and treatment.