Perceptions of School Safety (Student Reported), by Level of Connectedness to School
Definition: Percentage of public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional students reporting the level of safety they feel at school, by level of connectedness to school (e.g., in 2011-13, 31.6% of students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional students in California public schools with high levels of school connectedness reported that they felt very safe at school).
Footnote: The 2011-2013 time period reflects data from school years 2011-12 and
2012-13. District- and county-level figures are weighted proportions
from the 2011-13 California Healthy Kids Survey, and state-level figures
are weighted proportions from the 2011-13 California Student Survey.
The grade levels included in school district data depend on the grades
offered in each district; for example, high school districts do not
include 7th grade data. "Non-Traditional" students are those enrolled in
Community Day Schools or Continuation Education; according to Ed-Data,
these schools make up about 10% of all public schools in California.
N/A indicates that the survey was not administered in that period or
that data are not available for that group. LNE (Low Number Event)
indicates that for a specific answer there were fewer than 25
respondents. N/R indicates that the sample is too small to be
representative. School connectedness includes being treated fairly,
feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling part of, and feeling
safe at school. The level of school connectedness is based on a scale
created from student responses to 5 survey questions. See the guidebooks
for the “Core” or “Resilience and Youth Development” survey modules at http://chks.wested.org/about for more information.
* These data are available by grade level (7th, 9th, 11th, and non-traditional students), gender, race/ethnicity, and level of connectedness to school. School connectedness is a summary measure based on student reports of being treated fairly, feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling part of school, and feeling safe at school. "Non-traditional" students are those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education; according to Ed-Data,
these schools make up about 10% of all public schools in California.
The safety and supportiveness of a child’s school environment can play a crucial role in his or her development and academic success. When students feel safe and supported at school, they tend to have better school attendance and test scores, and they are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as substance abuse and violence (1). Exposure to violence at school is associated with many negative outcomes for students, including depression, suicide, substance use, truancy, academic problems, and violent behavior (2, 3). The fear of violence alone can affect students’ development, concentration, and ability to learn (4).
School safety often is compromised by bullying and harassment, affecting more than a quarter of U.S. middle and high school students each year (5). In addition to the risk of physical injury, victims of bullying are at increased risk of emotional and physical health problems, as well as poor academic achievement (5). Any young person can be bullied, but certain groups are more likely to be victimized, such as LGBT youth, students with disabilities, and African American youth (5).
More than half of California students in grades 7, 9, 11 and non-traditional classes reported feeling safe or very safe at school in 2011-13, but 8% of students reported they felt unsafe or very unsafe. Higher percentages of white students reported feeling safe or very safe (71% in 2011-13) at school than students of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
In 2011-13, about 1 in 4 California 7th graders reported that they had been afraid of being beaten up at school at least once in the past year. The vast majority of students in 7th, 9th, 11th grades and non-traditional classes said they had not carried a gun (95%), or a knife or other weapon (91%) to school in the past year.
Measures of school safety vary by students' levels of "school connectedness" (which refers to students being
treated fairly, feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling part of
school, and feeling safe at school). For example, in 2011-13, reports of physical fighting at school were less common among youth with higher levels of school connectedness than among those with low levels of school connectedness.
School safety is a major public health concern (1, 2). When students are exposed to violence or feel unsafe at school, it can negatively affect their health and well being as well as their academic performance (1, 2). According to the federal government, efforts to improve school safety should include creating positive school climates, strengthening mental health services, improving school discipline policies, preparing schools for emergencies, and supporting evidence-based family and community violence prevention programs (1, 3). Strategies to improve school safety also should address bullying and harassment, as it is a pervasive problem affecting the safety of millions of U.S. students (4).
According to research and subject experts, policy options that could strengthen school safety include:
Ensuring that schools engage families and community partners to create positive school climates, which are linked to lower rates of violence and bullying, increased staff and student feelings of safety, and other positive outcomes; such efforts should involve ongoing staff training, strategies to promote prosocial student behavior, and tiered systems of support to meet student needs (5, 6)
As part of creating positive school environments, supporting school-wide programs that help all students build social-emotional skills, including teamwork, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills (3, 5, 6, 7)
Ensuring adequate training for school staff to recognize signs of emotional or behavioral problems and refer students to appropriate services; and expanding the workforce of qualified mental health professionals serving youth, such as school counselors and psychiatrists (8)
Engaging all school stakeholders -- leaders, teachers, students, families, community organizations, and others -- to develop and disseminate a shared anti-bullying mission statement, code of conduct, school policies, and a bullying reporting system; this should include particular attention to vulnerable populations (e.g., LGBT youth) and training on how to deal with bullying incidents (4, 7)
Following state and federal law, implementing non-punitive school discipline policies that are clear, fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keep students in school when possible, and they should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices. This will require regular training and support for all school staff. (5, 6)
Ensuring that schools have comprehensive emergency management plans in place (1)
Supporting evidence-based programs for families, such as parent education that strengthens communication and problem-solving skills; and promoting comprehensive community violence prevention strategies that are systematic, data-driven, tailored, led by cross-sector coalitions, and based on what is known about effective programs (3, 7)