Safety first: How schools are investing in security in 2023

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that the overwhelmingly majority of schools have extensive security measures in place. For example, among schools with a full or part-time SLEO or SRO, 92% of them routinely carry a firearm.

You can never be too safe—or perhaps you can. While some argue that hardening schools actually makes students feel less safe because they feel like they’re in high-security prisons, others would rather not risk having a child walk through their doors with a weapon. And according to the data, most schools would rather not take that chance either.

In what’s been an unsettling start to 2023, from a 6-year-old shooting his first-grade teacher to school closures due to violent threats, districts are more focused than ever on student safety, according to data released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics, a research arm of the U.S. Education Department.

Let’s dive into the numbers:

Policies, practices, and procedures

An overwhelming majority of public schools have written plans that detail procedures for emergency scenarios in 2022-23. These scenarios include active shooter situations (96%), lockdowns (95%) and shelter-in-place (93%). And, as threats become increasingly more common, practice and preparation become an inevitable part of daily life for many students. Nearly one-third (30%) of public schools report having evacuation drills nine or more times during the school year, 40% of schools practice lockdown drills twice each school year, and 41% partake in shelter-in-place drills twice per year.

With preparedness comes confidence, and most public schools feel “somewhat” or very prepared” to address shooting threats (92%), intruder situations (92%), bomb threats (87%), and active shooter situations (85%).

Educator training and student discipline

For good reason, teachers must understand the protocols and procedures surrounding school security. And according to the data, they’ve been hitting the books.

During the 2022-23 school year, teachers have undergone various safety procedures, including how to handle emergency situations (96%), positive behavioral intervention strategies (93%), recognizing signs of bullying behaviors (84%), recognizing signs of self-harm or suicidal tendencies (84%), and crisis prevention and intervention (84%). Additionally, the majority of schools (73%) have reported providing DEI training (diversity, equity and inclusion). 65% provided training for recognizing and responding to threats and behaviors based on bias or hate crimes against minority student groups.

In terms of disciplinary action, the most common forms of punishment for disruptive student behavior issues include school counseling (95%), stripping away student privileges (94%), losing school bus privileges due to misbehavior (82%), out-of-school suspension (69%), and detention/Saturday school (61%).

However, many schools reported facing several limitations related to preventing or reducing disruptive student behavioral issues, such as a lack of alternative placement programs for troubled students (72%), lack of funding (61%), not enough training for educators in classroom management (60%), and lack of parental support for school policies (60%).

Security personnel

In 2022-23, schools bolstered their physical security measures as violent school threats become more common. For example, according to the data 92% of public schools either have a sworn law enforcement officer (SLEO) or school resource officer (SRO) routinely carrying a firearm. Only 3% of staff members who are not SLEOs, SROs or security officers legally carry a firearm. Additionally, 90% of these reported that security personnel are armed with physical restraints such as handcuffs and tasers. 65% said they also carry chemical aerosol sprays, such as a mace. Most interestingly, 52% of security personnel wear a body camera, a substantial jump from 33% in 2017-18.

SLEOs and SROs are expected to serve their schools in a variety of ways. Among public schools that have either an SLEO or SRO, they report requiring their security personnel to engage in security enforcement and patrol (89%), identify problems within the school and seek solutions (80%) and emergency management (79%).

However, the number of schools that have a full or part-time SLEO at their school at least once a week is quite low (12%). Comparably, 55% of public schools have one or more full- or part-time SROs at their school at least once a week, and 25% of public schools have one or more full or part-time security officers at their school at least once a week.

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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