Preventing School Violence is a Winnable Exercise
By Franklin Schargel
We cannot think it won’t happen here. “Here” is everywhere.
It was supposed to be a new school year – a fresh start with a new “normal” after being closed for an entire year. Three days into the new school year, school violence occurred in Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, NM (where I live) when a thirteen-year-old middle school student was shot and killed by another thirteen-year-old. This is having a profound and lasting impact on the school, the community, and our nation as a whole.
Schools are dealing with growing numbers of angry, young people who are disconnected from family, school, and society. The effects of Covid-19 and the closing of schools has exacerbated the already existing child anxiety, stress, and trauma.
Violence is firmly embedded in America; it is also embedded in America’s schools. No school is immune. School violence has taken place in rural towns, cities, suburbs and on Native American reservations. It has taken place in elementary, middle, high schools and universities. Some communities were poor, some middle-class or affluent and some were mostly white, others mostly children of color.
Since the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado (April 20, 1999) and continuing through the elementary shooting at Sandy Hook, in Newton Connecticut (December 12, 2014) to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (February 14, 2018), a variety of government agencies (F.B.I., National Threat Assessment Agency of the U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security) have collected data and released a series of reports in an attempt to prevent further violence. Based on my research and reports of these agencies, there are things that schools can do:
- Initiate a no-bullying policy
- Accept “zero tolerance” for threats and violence and provide implementation steps/.
- Develop and deploy a school security plan.
- Implement a conflict resolution curriculum
- Teach anger management techniques
- Actively engage all stakeholders (students, teachers, staff, parents, law enforcement, the business community, Chambers of Commerce)
- Form a Threat Assessment Team.
- Have a Crisis Management Plan developed with the input of students, parents, law enforcement, and the outside community.
- Establish fair, equitable rules, and consequences and enforce them.
- Make the school family-friendly inviting parents and families to get involved.
- Establish student “ambassadors” in classrooms and in the halls to make the school more inviting to new students.
- Establish family “ambassadors” making the school more inviting to parents and community members.
- Establish a school dedicated website to allow students to anonymously report, signs of bullying, and potential signs of violence, etc.
- Train staff to identify and address practical steps of potential school violence.
- Involve the disenfranchised. Provide a voice for everyone.
- Be proactive without being repressive.
- Increase supervision in spots that have been identified as potential sources of school violence (lunchroom, bathrooms, gyms, athletic field, perimeter of school).
- Teach cooperation by assigning projects that require collaboration.
- Take immediate action when violence is observed. All teachers and staff must let students know they care and will not allow anyone to be mistreated.
- Confront bullies. Invite parents or guardians of both those accused of violence and the victims to the school and attempt to resolve the issue expeditiously.
- Invite into the school/district experts on possible causes and what the staff can do to deal with the variety of school violence issues.
- Provide protection for victims. This can take the form of developing a buddy system.
- Develop contingency plans (“If this doesn’t work, we could try….”).
The job of schools is to prevent school violence, not to react to it once it has occurred.
About the author
Franklin P. Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator who successfully designed, developed and helped implement a process that dramatically increased parental engagement, increased post-secondary school attendance and significantly lowered his Title 1 high school’s dropout rate. The U.S. Department of Education, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and The New York Times have recognized his work. In addition, Schargel served as the Education Division Chair of the American Society for Quality and helped develop the National Quality Award, the Malcolm Baldrige Award for Education.
Schargel is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author of thirteen best-selling books. His last published book: “Who Will Teach The Children? Recruiting, Retaining and Refreshing Highly Effective Educators” has been published by School Success Network Press. In addition, he has written over 100 published articles dealing with school reform.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.