The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center studied 41 incidents of school violence that occurred between 2008-2017 and found many could have been prevented, according to the Protecting America’s Schools report. The report states that schools should establish prevention programs to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence and intervene early.
The report states that “Prevention is key,” but there is no typical profile of a student attacker. Attackers usually have multiple motives, but most often they include a grievance with at least one fellow student. They also tend to use firearms acquired at home.
Schools where attacks took place were almost all public and most were suburban high schools. More than half of the attacks took place at schools with fewer than 1,000 students and half had on-site school resource officers..
The Secret Service recommends schools implement multidisciplinary school threat assessment teams to identify students showing troubling behavior. The study shows that only 9 of the 41 schools studied had a program in place to examine red flag behavior. It’s also important to have an on-site immediate response plan, as most attacks last less than five minutes, the report says.
Districts face the challenge of balancing a safe environment with a nurturing one. Cameras and metal detectors can create a prison-like atmosphere. Social-emotional prevention strategies, as suggested in the Secret Service report, may be more effective and are recommended for those identified as being at-risk.
New building designs and renovation now take safety and security measures into consideration. Enhancing a school with more safety features doesn’t have to make it ugly or unwelcoming. Fortification can be disguised in attractive ways. For example, more natural light and fewer entry points brighten the school but allow staff members to monitor the exits and entrances.
Many students and parents prefer more mental health and wraparound services, rather than arming teachers to prevent violence. Speakers at Federal Commission on School Safety listening session in 2018 made their concerns known when they said increased police presence in schools may be contributing to the criminalization of youth. Congressman John Rutherford, R-Florida, urged the implementation of the STOP School Violence Act, which includes funding for violence prevention, as well as providing funds for more physical security measures.