School is one of the safest places for children and adolescents to spend their days. Even so, risks still exist, whether that involves bullying, fights, bomb threats or armed campus intruders.
School violence and bullying are detrimental to students’ academic performance and can carry lifelong negative consequences to their physical and mental health, including drug use and a higher risk of suicide. It’s no surprise, then, that polls have consistently found that school safety and security are top of mind for parents and students.
Today, school districts maintain “emergency operations plans” that help educators prepare for, respond to, and recover from a range of dangerous situations, such as campus intruders, bomb threats and even infectious disease outbreaks. All states maintain anti-bullying rules, with laws generally requiring schools to create prevention procedures. Sworn police, known as school resource offers, roam the halls of many schools (especially at the middle and high school levels). Administrators deploy a range of security and surveillance technology — often at large expense — from door locks and metal detectors to surveillance cameras and digital platforms that monitor student activities online. Yet, even as schools have generally become safer in recent years, the topic remains controversial.
For reporters, school safety and security can become a top priority the second the newsroom police scanner begins to chatter. Journalists are tasked with covering everything from breaking news about campus crime to watchdog investigative reporting that holds officials accountable for ensuring the safety of kids every day.
Safety a Top Priority for Educators
When people think about safety and security measures to keep children and educators safe, their minds often jump to perhaps the most devastating form of violence: Mass school shootings. The topic evokes the gut-wrenching memories of tragedies such as Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland.
These statistically rare incidents often drive divisive political debates and generate front-page headlines. But other — more commonplace — safety and security issues are daily challenges. From playground fights and cyberbullying to shootings and natural disasters, the wide range of scenarios require school leaders to be ready. This often includes threat assessment policies (and teams) for assessing and intervening when student behavior poses a risk to peers or faculty. In addition, extensive emergency plans allow school staff and first responders to react quickly, appropriately and decisively when the need arises.
As you report on this critical topic, the following modules offer a brief history of school safety and security in the U.S., key research and a few story ideas to help get you started.
Updated July 2021.