School violence makes national headlines with alarming regularity. Intense media coverage drives the perception that schools are inherently unsafe. While the statistics show that rates of violence have been decreasing, highly publicized school shootings bring parents to board meetings demanding added security in district buildings.
School leaders understand these concerns. However, employing armed SROs, installing enhanced surveillance systems and fortifying entrances with ballistic materials diverts funds needed for social workers, counselors, and social-emotional learning programs designed to promote good behavior among students and create a positive school climate.
Forward-thinking administrators can address these challenges with a holistic approach that utilizes new technologies to harden buildings against exterior threats while creating a school environment that reduces the risk of violence from within.
Most Common Security and Behavior Issues
While incidents of student bullying have sharply declined over the past 15 years, bullying remains, by far, the most common discipline problem. Nearly 70 percent of public schools reported incidents of violence, physical attacks or fights, during the 2015-16 school year. Verbal abuse of teachers and disrespect for teachers are also common discipline problems reported by school principals.
Research into the motives behind these behaviors finds that students often bully and intimidate others to gain a sense of power and to position themselves as being part of the “in” group by attacking the “out” group. A sense of control and feelings of belonging are basic psychological needs. When they are unmet, students may lash out with inappropriate behaviors and violence.
Cutting classes, routinely arriving late and skipping school altogether negatively affect a student’s ability to succeed academically. Chronic absenteeism undermines efforts at creating a strong sense of community, as absent students become disengaged. Multiple factors may contribute to these behaviors. A student’s family culture may not value education or encourage regular attendance. Homelessness, poverty, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and disability are additional barriers to daily attendance. Students may also skip school out of fear.
According to the April 2019 Indicators of School Crime and Safety report, more than 6 percent of students, ages 12-18, reported they avoided school activities or classes because they believed someone might harm them. Identifying at-risk students and reengaging them is critical to keeping schools safe.
Driving much of the conversation about school security are school shootings, which capture national headlines and are intensely covered by the media. Although these attacks are horrifying, and schools must secure their buildings to impede would-be assailants, most districts will never experience this level of violence. For the majority of schools, bullying, fighting, disrupting and cutting classes are statistically more likely threats to the physical, mental and academic health of students and school personnel.
Hardening Buildings to Improve Security
Fear of attack from an armed intruder has prompted many districts to respond by dedicating resources to hardening their buildings and updating security protocols. Nationwide, the most often implemented measures are upgraded controlled door access systems, surveillance cameras and ID badges for school personnel and visitors. Since the Parkland, Florida shooting in January 2018, more districts are considering armed SROs recruited from local law enforcement. The Florida legislature passed, and Governor Scott signed, a school safety law that requires an SRO in all public schools.
The effectiveness of these security measures hasn’t been proven. School security has become a multi-billion dollar industry, yet school shootings continue to make headlines. The RAND Justice Policy Program conducted a study to determine the role technology could play in school safety. The study authors conclude that creating and annually updating a school safety plan that includes safety drills, behavioral supports, and behavioral interventions are essential to securing buildings. Technology is best used to supplement these plans. Before investing in security technology, schools should conduct a needs assessment and incorporate these needs, community values, and budget into buying decisions.
School Violence, Student Behavior, and School Climate
A school’s climate is the day-to-day atmosphere that, over time creates a culture shared by the school community. A positive culture is one that is supportive, engenders trust, and celebrates individual and shared successes, all qualities that promote learning and civic-mindedness. A negative, hostile climate can divide a school community into factions. In such an environment, individual survival is prioritized over the community, hierarchies of power — adults to students or among student cliques — are rigid, and students lack the sense of free will and connectedness necessary to thrive.
In schools with positive, inclusive climates, students are less likely to suffer from feelings of helplessness and isolation. In these schools, students feel safe communicating with adults, and students with social or emotional problems may be identified before they turn to violence.
While a sense of security is necessary for a positive school climate, overt security measures such as armed guards and metal detectors may do more harm than good by creating a distressing environment. The National Association of School Psychologists, in a review of the literature, cites studies that find these security measures may actually make schools less safe by increasing fear among students and bringing a culture of self-preservation into the school.
Preventing Violence and Promoting Good Behavior in Schools — Commission Findings
The Federal Commission on School Safety, formed by the Trump Administration in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, issued its final report in December 2018. The Commission reviewed decades of reports on school violence, conducted field visits and interviewed administrators, teachers, students, government officials, and health professionals to determine how best to prevent violence in schools. The Commission concluded that developing a “culture of connectedness” and implementing social and emotional learning programs are the best ways to create a positive school climate and reduce misbehavior and violence. Technology can facilitate both these initiatives.
Smart Technology to Address School Security and Foster a Positive Climate
Replacing legacy IT systems with new, integrated ones can increase students’ sense of autonomy and connectedness, streamline operations to reduce clerical tasks, improve communications and support social and emotional learning while securing buildings against those who intend harm.
At the start of the school day, busloads of students stream through the doors making it nearly impossible to keep track of who is entering the building. Smart card IDs, which use RFID technology, make it possible for students and school personnel to record their presence by swiping or tapping their cards at an entrance kiosk. Rather than relying on teachers to call the roll and report attendance, these systems make students responsible for recording their attendance. These multi-purpose IDs may be used to check out library materials and pay for purchases in the school cafeteria, streamlining operations, and increasing student accountability and autonomy.
As cardholders interact with card readers, the data created becomes available to school personnel. From a central dashboard, building administrators may view this data and know exactly who is in the building in real-time.
Incidents of bullying and fighting most often occur in unsupervised areas. Smart ID cards may be used as keys to unlock doors throughout the building with individual card permissions created from an administration dashboard. This secure door access security feature prevents students from gathering in restricted, unsupervised areas.
Automated Behavior Management
Enforcement of school policies and behavioral expectations must be consistent if students are to understand that the consequences of their behaviors are a result of their own actions, not the subjective judgment of individual teachers.
Automated systems simplify the task of recording student behavior, both good and bad, and automated referrals and interventions make consequences a direct result of a student’s actions.
Cultural and socio-economic diversity in the student body brings diverse definitions of good behavior. Many students lack the social and emotional skills to understand behavioral expectations or the effect their actions have on others. Comprehensive behavior management systems include learning modules to help students develop the social skills necessary for positive social interactions. These systems also provide longitudinal data so patterns of problematic behavior may be identified and mitigated.
Visitor Management Systems
Low-tech visitor management systems rely on security personnel to screen visitors with a record of paper logs. The vulnerability of these systems is evident: school employees have no sure way of verifying a visitor’s credentials.
A visitor management system with the capability to scan state-issued IDs, such as a driver’s license, eliminates the guesswork. These systems, when integrated with SIS programs and sex offender registries, will red-flag visitors involved in custody disputes and those who may not legally enter a building full of children. Automated Visitor Management Systems print time-stamped badges that contain the visitor’s name and reason for the visit. This data is available to school administrators in real-time, information that is critical during emergencies.
Updated IT systems using smart technologies can help schools deal with modern security challenges and support initiatives to improve student behavior without the negative effects of overt security measures.
Contact ScholarChip to learn more about innovations in technology to secure school buildings, promote a positive climate, and encourage good behavior.