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School Violence and Weapons

Weapons, particularly guns, in schools are a subject of ongoing debate. This issue has gained national attention. This is especially true after tragic events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and other mass shootings in public schools. As school shootings have become more frequent, the call for change has become more prevalent. Lawmakers, school officials, and law enforcement agencies are working to create safer schools.

Not all school violence involves weapons. But, many of the deadliest attacks feature weapons. Typically, weapons prohibited on school grounds refer to firearms and explosives. Recently, states have widened these guidelines.

This article provides a brief overview of school violence and weapons.

Overview of School Violence and Weapons

School violence ranges from bullying to major incidents like school shootings. Gun violence in middle schools and high schools (and even elementary schools) has increased. This has led to a heightened focus on school safety plans. Initiatives in states like New YorkFloridaTexas, and Michigan aim to curb this violence.

School administrators and school board members work together. They work with superintendents and other school personnel, too. These individuals collaborate with law enforcement officers. The U.S. Department of Education and Homeland Security also are involved. The goal is to ensure every school building offers a secure learning environment. These environments should be free of weapons.

The exact definition of a weapon can vary by school policies and state laws. Weapons may include:

  • Firearms (including handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
  • Knives (including switchblades, pocket knives, and kitchen knives)
  • Blunt objects (including crowbars and clubs)
  • Explosive devices (including dynamite, firecrackers, and homemade bombs)
  • Chemical weapons (including tear gas and pepper spray)
  • Brass knuckles (or similar hand-enhancing weapons)
  • Stun guns or tasers
  • BB guns or pellet guns

Always consult your local school policy or state law regarding any of the items noted above or any other weapon.

Effect of No Child Left Behind on Weapons in Schools

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was a federal education law. NCLB authorized federal funding to schools. This happened only if the school adopted a "zero tolerance" policy. These policies affected students who brought illegal firearms on or near school grounds. So, many school districts prohibited weapons from campus. These schools expelled any student who brought a weapon to class. Some states enacted this policy at a state level. Others allowed the school districts to set their own weapons rules.

NCLB also affected school safety by holding schools accountable for their learning environment. Its primary focus was academic achievement. But the act also required states to report on school safety. These reports included incidents of violence and delinquency. This led many schools to install school violence prevention programs.

Suspensions for carrying weapons, like handguns, saw an increase. This happened when schools prioritized school security. The act emphasized the need for safe schools. The act focused on more than just the academic achievements of students. It also focused on creating a safer learning environment. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB in 2015. ESSA aimed to give more flexibility to states in setting their own standards.

When Weapons Can Be on School Grounds

The only instances in which all states allow weapons on school property are when individuals are authorized to do so. For example, school police officers may be armed. In some situations, school safety plans include arming specific school employees. Some plans called for having school resource officers carry weapons. These were responses to potential active shooter situations.

These decisions are often made in partnerships between school communities and law enforcement. Some argue that arming school staff can deter potential shooters. Others believe it may increase the risks. State laws vary. Certain states permit weapons in schools under certain conditions. For example, the weapon must be in the hands of trained personnel. This includes law enforcement officers and first responders, not minors or other students.

Some states have concealed carry laws. These laws allow people to bring guns with them anywhere they go, including school. Other states allow teachers to bring firearms to school. This allows them to protect children against a sudden attack. For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Student Discipline and Codes of Conduct.

Reducing School Violence

Addressing school violence necessitates a comprehensive approach. This approach should combine gun safety and the criminal justice system. Proper gun safety measures can prevent unauthorized access to firearms.

Parents and guardians play a pivotal role in ensuring guns are properly secured. This means that firearms are to be away from the reach of children. Gun safety courses and public awareness campaigns can be instrumental in educating communities. They can inform people about responsible firearm ownership. These initiatives can help save lives.

The criminal justice system also has a significant role in deterring school violence. Parents can identify juveniles involved in violent activities or showing tendencies. Parents, counselors, or school administrators can provide an intervention.

State legislatures across the U.S. revise their laws about gun safety often. They also make pivotal laws on gun regulations and the juvenile justice system. The legislatures can work together to create policies that respond to school violence. These policies can also mitigate potential threats in the future.

Violence Prevention: Schools' Legal Responsibilities

Preventing weapon-related violence in schools is a priority across the nation. Many states have shaped their policies, drawing insights from tragic, high-profile cases. Schools' legal responsibilities often entail:

  • Duty of Care: At the core, every school has a legal duty to protect its students from foreseeable harm. This includes harm caused by violent acts involving weapons.
  • Safety Protocols: Schools create drills for potential active shooter situations. They also create clear procedures for lockdowns and coordinate with local law enforcement.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Many schools have created mechanisms for reporting. Students, staff, and parents can report suspicious activities or threats. This helps preempt potential threats.

Schools also help by providing mental health support for students.

School Safety and Mental Health

A major factor contributing to school violence is the mental health of students. Addressing mental health can serve as a preventive measure against violence. School staff and school employees must be ready to identify students at risk. They should also provide or recommend appropriate mental health resources.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education have both stressed the importance of mental health in ensuring school safety. Recognizing and treating mental health issues can reduce the potential for violence. This can help prevent violence throughout the school year.

Contesting Penalties for Bringing a Weapon to School

Students or their parents can contest penalties, depending on the circumstances. Schools usually have a strict zero-tolerance policy for bringing weapons. But, there are occasions where there was no intent to bring a weapon to school. For example, suppose a student drives a family car to school. Suppose they don't know a parent left hunting gear or tools in the back. School officials might view it in a different light than intentionally bringing a weapon to school.

A student may realize they unintentionally brought a weapon to school. In these situations, it is generally best to report it to school officials. Students should make the report immediately.

If penalized, students and parents have the right to appeal the decision. This process varies from school to school. It usually involves presenting evidence or context to school administrators.

Getting Legal Help

Parents, students, or school personnel may have concerns about school safety. They can seek legal help. Understanding education law, state law, and federal law related to school violence is crucial. Lawyers can help you navigate these laws. They can help you understand relevant education acts. They can advocate for juvenile justice if needed.

Talk to an education law attorney about your legal issue.

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