Summary: School Safety

Spotlight on Key Indicators: School Safety

Learn More About School Safety

School Safety
Bullying and Harassment at School
Pupil Support Services
School Climate
School Attendance and Discipline
Gang Involvement
Why This Topic Is Important
The safety and supportiveness of young people'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 emotional health and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (1, 2). Exposure to violence in schools and school neighborhoods is associated with many negative outcomes for youth, including poor academic performance, truancy, substance use, violent behavior, depression-related feelings, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors (1, 3). Experiencing violence during childhood or adolescence also increases the likelihood of long-term physical, behavioral, and mental health problems in adulthood (1). Further, school violence not only affects the individuals involved but also can adversely impact teachers, bystanders, and surrounding communities (3).

Unfortunately, school safety is often compromised. According to a 2019 survey, nearly half (44%) of U.S. high school students had one or more violent experiences in the previous year, such as bullying, physical fighting, being threatened with a weapon at school, dating violence, or sexual violence (1). Females and LGBTQ students were significantly more likely to experience multiple types of violence when compared with males and heterosexual students, respectively (1). In addition, studies show that reports of hate crimes and mass casualty events in schools have increased in recent years (3, 4).
For more information, see’s Research & Links section. Also see’s topics on Bullying and Harassment at School and School Climate.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  David-Ferdon, C., et al. (2021). Vital signs: Prevalence of multiple forms of violence and increased health risk behaviors and conditions among youths — United States, 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70, 167-173. Retrieved from:

2.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). School connectedness. Retrieved from:

3.  Wang, K., et al. (2020). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2019. National Center for Education Statistics & Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from:

4.  Frederique, N. (2020). What do the data reveal about violence in schools? National Institute of Justice Journal, 282, 65-71. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to a 2017-2019 survey, less than a quarter of California public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs felt very safe when at school. Across survey years, boys are more likely to feel very safe at school than their female counterparts, as are students whose parents have a college degree when compared with those whose parents have lower educational attainment.

In 2017-2019, an estimated 16% of 7th graders, 10% of 9th graders, 7% of 11th graders, and 11% of non-traditional students statewide had been in at least one physical fight on school property in the previous year. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, 6% of Asian youth were in physical fights at school in the previous year, compared with 12% of their Hispanic/Latino and 20% of their African American/black peers.

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, the share of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth who on more than one occasion in the previous year were afraid of being beaten up at school (15%) was three times higher than for straight youth (5%) in 2017-2019. In the same period, an estimated 20% of students with low levels of school connectedness felt very unsafe at school, compared with less than 1% of students with high levels of connectedness.

In 2017-2019, an estimated 4% of students in non-traditional programs had carried a gun at school at least once in the previous year and 6% had carried another type of weapon at least once—down from 12% and 21%, respectively, in 2011-2013. By comparison, in 2017-2019 1% of students in traditional 11th grade had carried a gun and 4% had carried another type of weapon. Across all student groups with data in 2017-2019, less than 6% of youth had carried a gun at school in the previous year and less than 9% had carried a weapon other than a gun.
Policy Implications
When students are exposed to violence or feel unsafe at school, it can affect their academic performance and negatively impact their mental and physical health, sometimes with lasting consequences into adulthood (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 violence prevention programs at the individual, family, school, and neighborhood levels (2, 3, 4). Strategies to increase school safety also should address bullying and harassment, which jeopardizes the well being of millions of students nationwide (5, 6). In addition, there is growing public concern around mass casualty events in schools, which (while rare) have increased in recent years (7, 8). Preventing and reducing all types of school violence will require continued collaboration across sectors to address student needs and behaviors, together with comprehensive efforts to strengthen protective factors in homes, schools, and communities (2, 3).

Policy and practice options that could enhance student and staff safety include:
  • Providing schools with adequate support to create positive school climates—environments in which students feel valued, supported, and engaged—which are linked to lower rates of violence; such efforts should provide staff with ongoing training and students with systems of support to address their behavioral health needs (2, 4, 9)
  • Supporting family- and school-based programs that build social-emotional skills including teamwork, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution (2, 3)
  • Expanding the workforce of qualified mental health professionals serving youth—particularly in under-resourced schools and communities—and ensuring that school staff are trained to recognize emotional and behavioral problems and refer students to appropriate services (2, 4, 10)
  • Engaging all school stakeholders—students, families, teachers, leaders, and others—in developing shared codes of conduct, anti-bullying statements, and reporting systems for concerning behavior; these should pay particular attention to vulnerable populations (e.g., LGBTQ youth) and include training for bystanders and school staff on how to deal with bullying and cyberbullying incidents (5, 6, 9, 10)
  • Ensuring that school emergency drills are developmentally appropriate, are sensitive to the unique needs of children participating (e.g., those with disabilities or past trauma), and consider carefully the emotional risks for students (8)
  • Assuring that schools have non-punitive discipline policies that are clear, fair, and consistent, and that teachers and administrators are adequately trained; this should include trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive practices and a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keeps students in school when possible (2, 4)
  • Promoting evidence-based violence prevention strategies that are tailored to community needs and led by cross-sector coalitions; for example, ensuring that youth are connected to caring adults through mentoring or after-school programs and that young children have nurturing early childhood environments (3)
For more information, see’s Research & Links section. Also see Policy Implications under Bullying and Harassment at School, School Climate, and School Attendance and Discipline.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  David-Ferdon, C., et al. (2021). Vital signs: Prevalence of multiple forms of violence and increased health risk behaviors and conditions among youths — United States, 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70, 167-173. Retrieved from:

2.  Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M. (2018). Educating the whole child: Improving school climate to support student success. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from:

3.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Preventing youth violence. Retrieved from:

4.  Whitaker, A., et al. (n.d.). Cops and no counselors: How the lack of school mental health staff is harming students. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from:

5.  Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2021). Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from:

6.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. (2017). Assessing prevention capacity and implementing change: An evidence-informed and evidence-based bullying prevention capacity assessment and change package. Retrieved from:

7.  Frederique, N. (2020). What do the data reveal about violence in schools? National Institute of Justice Journal, 282, 65-71. Retrieved from:

8.  Schonfeld, D. J., et al. (2020). Participation of children and adolescents in live crisis drills and exercises.Pediatrics, 146(3), e2020015503. Retrieved from:

9.  Afkinich, J. L., & Klumpner, S. (2018). Violence prevention strategies and school safety. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 9(4), 637-650. Retrieved from:

10.  National Threat Assessment Center. (2021). Averting targeted school violence: A U.S. Secret Service analysis of plots against schools. Department of Homeland Security, Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
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