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- Definition: Level of perceived school safety among public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs (e.g., in 2015-2017, an estimated 3.0% of California 9th graders felt very unsafe at school).
- Data Source: WestEd, California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) and Biennial State CHKS. California Dept. of Education (Mar. 2019).
- Footnote: Years presented comprise two school years (e.g., 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years are shown as 2015-2017). County- and state-level data are weighted estimates; school district-level data are unweighted. Students in non-traditional programs are those enrolled in community day schools or continuation education. The notation S refers to (a) data for school districts that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 10 respondents in that group, and (b) data for counties that have been suppressed because the sample was too small to be representative. N/A means that data are not available.
- Measures of School Safety on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, indicators of school safety are based on student reports regarding:
- Their perceived level of safety at school, from very safe to very unsafe
- The number of times in the previous year they were afraid of being beaten up, were in a physical fight, carried a gun, and carried a weapon other than a gun at school
Also available are data from school staff on the extent to which:Data based on student reports come from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) and are available by grade level (7, 9, 11, and/or non-traditional), gender, level of school connectedness,* parent education level, and sexual orientation.
State-level CHKS estimates, although derived from the Biennial State CHKS, may differ from data published in Biennial State CHKS reports due to differences in grade-level classification of students in continuation high schools.
*Levels of school connectedness are based on a scale created from responses to five questions about feeling safe, close to people, and a part of school, being happy at school, and about teachers treating students fairly.
- School Safety
- Perceptions of School Safety, by Grade Level
- Fear of Being Beaten Up at School, by Grade Level
- Physical Fighting at School, by Grade Level
- Carrying a Gun at School, by Grade Level
- Carrying a Weapon Other Than a Gun at School, by Grade Level
- Perceptions of School Safety for Students (Staff Reported)
- Perceptions of School Safety for Staff (Staff Reported)
- Student Physical Fighting Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Student Weapons Possession Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Bullying and Harassment at School
- Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Bias-Related Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Disability as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Gender as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Race/Ethnicity or National Origin as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Religion as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Sexual Orientation as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Cyberbullying, by Grade Level
- Student Bullying/Harassment Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Children's Emotional Health
- Hospitalizations for Mental Health Issues, by Age Group
- Depression-Related Feelings, by Grade Level
- Youth Needing Help for Emotional or Mental Health Problems
- Receipt of Mental Health Services Among Children Who Need Treatment or Counseling (Regions of 70,000 Residents or More)
- Students at School Are Well Behaved (Staff Reported)
- Student Depression or Mental Health Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- School Emphasizes Helping Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems (Staff Reported)
- Pupil Support Services
- Number of Pupil Support Service Personnel, by Type of Personnel
- Ratio of Students to Pupil Support Service Personnel, by Type of Personnel
- School Provides Adequate Counseling and Support Services for Students (Staff Reported)
- School Provides Services for Substance Abuse or Other Problems (Staff Reported)
- School Collaborates with Community Organizations to Address Youth Problems (Staff Reported)
- School Climate
- Academic Motivation (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- School Connectedness (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- School Supports (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Caring Relationships with Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- High Expectations from Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Meaningful Participation at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Students Who Are Motivated to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Motivates Students to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Is a Supportive and Inviting Place to Learn (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Care About Students (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Believe in Student Success (Staff Reported)
- School Welcomes and Facilitates Parent Involvement (Staff Reported)
- School Gives Students Opportunities to Make a Difference (Staff Reported)
- School Fosters Youth Resilience or Asset Promotion (Staff Reported)
- Students Respect Each Other’s Differences (Staff Reported)
- Cultural or Racial/Ethnic Tension at School (Staff Reported)
- Juvenile Arrests
- School Attendance and Discipline
- Students Truant from School
- Students Suspended from School
- Students Expelled from School
- Reasons for School Absence in Past Month, by Grade Level
- Truancy (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Truancy or Cutting Class Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Gang Involvement
- Why This Topic Is Important
The safety and supportiveness of children's school environments play a crucial role in their development and academic success. Students who feel safe and supported at school tend to have better school attendance and achievement, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (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 young people's development, concentration, and ability to learn (4).
School safety often is compromised by bullying and harassment, which affects 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 for 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 LGBTQ youth, students with disabilities, and African American/black youth (5).For more information on school safety, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see kidsdata.org’s topics on Bullying and Harassment at School and School Climate.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). School connectedness. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/school_connectedness.htm
2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2016). Understanding school violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/school_violence_fact_sheet-a.pdf
3. Musu, L., et al. (2019). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2018. National Center for Education Statistics & U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2019047
4. Austin, G., et al. (2013). Guidebook to the California Healthy Kids Survey, part II: Survey content – core module, 2013-14 edition. WestEd. Retrieved from: https://data.calschls.org/resources/chks_guidebook_2_coremodules.pdf
5. American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from: http://www.aera.net/Publications/Books/Prevention-of-Bullying
- How Children Are Faring
According to 2015-2017 estimates, less than a quarter of California public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs felt very safe at school. Overall, boys were more likely to feel very safe at school than their female counterparts, as were students whose parents had a college degree. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, 25% of white youth statewide felt very safe at school, compared with 15% of their Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander peers. Estimates of feeling very unsafe at school were highest for African American/black youth, at 5%.
Across measures, it is more common for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students and those with low levels of school connectedness to feel unsafe, fear victimization, and engage in violence-related risk behaviors when compared with other youth. For example, in 2015-2017, the percentage of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth who on four or more occasions in the previous year were afraid of being beaten up at school was 6%, compared with 2% of straight youth. In the same period, an estimated 6% of students with low school connectedness were in four or more physical fights in the previous year, compared with 1% of students with high levels of connectedness.
Statewide in 2015-2017, an estimated 6% of students in non-traditional programs carried a gun at school at least once in the previous year, and 10% carried another type of weapon at least once. By comparison, 2% of students in traditional 11th grade carried a gun and 5% carried another type of weapon at school in the previous year. Across all student groups, less than 8% of youth carried a gun at school in the previous year and less than 12% carried a weapon other than a gun.
- Policy Implications
When students are exposed to violence or feel unsafe at school, it affects their academic performance and can negatively impact their health (1, 2). The safety of school environments can be improved by creating positive school climates, strengthening youth mental health services, revamping school discipline policies, and supporting evidence-based family and community violence prevention programs (1, 3). Strategies to strengthen school safety also should address bullying and harassment, which is a pervasive problem jeopardizing the well being of millions of students nationwide (4).
Policy options that could enhance student and staff safety include:
For more policy ideas and information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see Policy Implications under these kidsdata.org topics: School Climate, Bullying and Harassment at School, School Attendance and Discipline, and Children's Emotional Health.
- Ensuring that schools engage families and community partners to create positive school climates, which are linked to lower rates of violence and bullying, increased feelings of safety among students and staff, and other positive outcomes; such efforts should involve ongoing staff training, strategies to promote pro-social student behavior, and tiered systems of support to meet student needs (5, 6)
- Supporting family- and school-based programs that strengthen communication and help all students build social-emotional skills including teamwork, problem solving, and conflict resolution (3, 5, 6, 7)
- Expanding the workforce of qualified mental health professionals serving youth, such as school counselors and psychiatrists, and ensuring adequate training for school staff to recognize signs of emotional or behavioral problems and refer students to appropriate services (8)
- Engaging all school stakeholders—leaders, teachers, students, families, community organizations, and others—in developing and disseminating shared codes of conduct, school policies, anti-bullying statements, and bullying reporting systems; these should pay particular attention to vulnerable populations (e.g., LGBTQ youth) and include training on how to deal with bullying incidents (4, 7)
- 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 should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practice (5, 6)
- Promoting comprehensive violence prevention strategies that are evidence-based, data-driven, tailored to the community, and led by cross-sector coalitions (1, 3, 7)
Sources for this narrative:
1. David-Ferdon, C., et al. (2016). A comprehensive technical package for the prevention of youth violence and associated risk behaviors. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/technical-packages.html
2. Austin, G., et al. (2013). Guidebook to the California Healthy Kids Survey, part II: Survey content – core module, 2013-14 edition. WestEd. Retrieved from: https://data.calschls.org/resources/chks_guidebook_2_coremodules.pdf
3. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2016). Understanding school violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/school_violence_fact_sheet-a.pdf
4. American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from: http://www.aera.net/Publications/Books/Prevention-of-Bullying
5. Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/school-discipline-consensus-report
6. U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Guiding principles: A resource guide for improving school climate and discipline. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf
7. David-Ferdon, C., & Simon, T. R. (2014). Preventing youth violence: Opportunities for action. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/pdf/opportunities-for-action.pdf
8. Murphey, D., et al. (2014). Are the children well? A model and recommendations for promoting the mental wellness of the nation's young people. Child Trends & Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2014/07/are-the-children-well-.html
- Websites with Related Information
- California Dept. of Education: Safe Schools
- California Safe and Supportive Schools. WestEd.
- California Safe Schools Coalition
- California School Boards Association: Safe and Supportive School Environment
- Community Matters
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
- National Center for Healthy Safe Children: Safe Schools Framework Implementation Toolkit. American Institutes for Research.
- National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. American Institutes for Research.
- Preventing School Violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- SchoolSafety.gov. U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, et al.
- School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
- StopBullying.gov. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
- VetoViolence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Youth.gov. Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
- Key Reports and Research
- 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. (2020). Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Kosciw, J. G., et al.
- A Comprehensive Technical Package for the Prevention of Youth Violence and Associated Risk Behaviors. (2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. David-Ferdon, C., et al.
- Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools. (2021). U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. National Threat Assessment Center.
- California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys Reports and Data. WestEd & California Dept. of Education.
- California School Safety Toolkit. (2016). Zellerbach Family Foundation, et al. Campie, P., et al.
- Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff Is Harming Students. American Civil Liberties Union. Whitaker, A., et al.
- Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety. American Institutes for Research.
- Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response. (2021). Cyberbullying Research Center. Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W.
- Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success. (2018). Learning Policy Institute. Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M.
- Interventions to Reduce Bullying and Cyberbullying. (2019). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Smith, P., et al. (Eds.)
- LGBTQ Youth in California’s Public Schools: Differences Across the State. (2017). Williams Institute. Choi, S. K., et al.
- Participation of Children and Adolescents in Live Crisis Drills and Exercises. (2020). Pediatrics. Schonfeld, D. J., et al.
- School Discipline Consensus Report: Strategies from the Field to Keep Students Engaged in School and Out of the Juvenile Justice System. (2014). Council of State Governments Justice Center. Morgan, E., et al.
- Violence Impacts Teens’ Lives: Prevent Violence. Improve Lifelong Health. (2021). CDC Vital Signs.
- What Do the Data Reveal About Violence in Schools? (2020). National Institute of Justice Journal. Frederique, N.
- County/Regional Reports
- 2021 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being. Children Now.
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card. Santa Monica Cradle to Career.
- More Data Sources For School Safety
- California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys Public Dashboards. WestEd & California Dept. of Education.
- Condition of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.
- K-12 School Shooting Database. Center for Homeland Defense and Security & Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Reports on the Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act. National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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