Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 13, 2023
Sadly, no student in America is immune from the ills of school violence anymore. Indeed, school violence in the United States has become more commonplace recently. These tragedies that have seen young students killed at school have been in the news far too often. Still, school officials aren't law enforcement officers. School leaders must establish policies to help keep students safe.
From metal detectors to laws and punishment for weapons at school, it's a new world for today's students. FindLaw's School Violence section can provide more information. This section focuses on legal issues surrounding safety on school campuses. It also includes burgeoning areas like cyberbullying.
A Brief Overview of School Violence
School violence in America has been a persistent concern for stakeholders. Stakeholders include school personnel, administrators, parents, and the community. Safety is a primary concern. So, schools launch initiatives to combat this pressing issue.
One key element to addressing school violence is recognizing mental health issues. This is a fundamental part of the student's well-being. Some students may receive an "at-risk" label. This is because they may come from difficult backgrounds. Or the child may have certain behavioral disabilities. But, focusing on mental health can help identify early signs of potential violence. It can also provide appropriate interventions for these students.
National agencies have taken significant steps toward violence prevention. Agencies include the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice. One of their key efforts includes establishing a national center. This center provides technical help for comprehensive school safety programs. Law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders form partnerships with the center. The center seeks to promote safe school environments and prevent school violence nationwide.
Parents, legislators, and school districts must find a balance. They must maintain the desire to keep schoolchildren safe and free from violence. At the same time, they must protect the student's privacy rights and free speech rights. School policies create safety measures and school disciplinary programs. This helps prevent violence from taking place at school. It also helps to punish those who commit acts of violence.
School Safety Plans, School Climate, and Training
School safety plans are pivotal to this process. These documents are very detailed. They help guide school staff and administrators during a crisis. Whether it's an active shooter incident or a case of child abuse, these plans provide guidelines. They help create efficient and effective responses. The Department of Homeland Security has also collaborated with the Department of Education. They work together in developing emergency operations plans.
Another crucial aspect is the school climate. A positive school climate fosters a supportive learning environment. It also contributes to violence prevention. The school environment significantly influences the student's development and well-being. Management encourages school staff to work on improving the school environment. They should do this as part of their comprehensive violence prevention strategy.
Training is also essential. Professional development programs help school personnel learn how to conduct threat assessments. They also help teach other incident reporting systems to watch school grounds.
Professional development programs are beneficial in this regard. School personnel can learn how to conduct threat assessments. They can also use incident reporting systems to check school grounds. Evidence-based practices support these systems. They enable school staff to handle situations. They also help maintain a safe school building.
School Safety Legal Issues and Laws
When discussing school safety, it's vital to consider the legal landscape. It plays an instrumental role in shaping how schools address violence. Several laws and regulations guide these efforts. They emphasize preparedness, violence prevention programs, and the use of safety resources.
The Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA) of 1994 is an example. This law places a rule on schools that get federal funds for education. They must have a law requiring local education agencies to expel a student found with a weapon. The expulsion must last for at least a year. This law serves as a critical component of school violence prevention.
The Clery Act is also an important law. It applies to colleges and universities participating in financial aid programs. This Act mainly applies to higher education institutions. It provides a framework for transparency in reporting crime. This includes violent incidents on campus. The Clery Act shows us how laws can promote transparency. The Clery Act also helps promote preparedness in school emergencies.
States have more recently begun passing laws that mandate threat assessments in schools. For example, consider Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. This law requires schools to establish threat assessment teams. These teams must coordinate resources. They should also put violence prevention strategies in place.
Another vital legal aspect is the Title IX law. Title IX is known mainly for promoting gender equity in sports. Importantly, it also protects students from sexual harassment and violence. Both of these are forms of gender discrimination. Schools must have established procedures for handling complaints of sexual violence.
The legislation also promotes safety resources and professional development for school personnel. For example, the STOP School Violence Act of 2018 gives federal grants. This aid goes to schools to improve school security. It also helps develop violence prevention programs. It helps to train students and staff in violence prevention. It also helps develop and operate anonymous reporting systems for violence or threats.
School Violence: Bullying-Related Laws
Bullying is a serious problem for students. Several states have passed anti-bullying laws to protect their students. California, Arkansas, and Colorado all passed anti-bullying laws. These laws help ensure that schools are safe places to get an education. The federal government has not passed any laws aimed explicitly at bullying.
Still, there are federal laws that protect students. They protect students from intimidation, harassment, and bullying. These federal laws include the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Students and parents can file lawsuits against a school or the school district. They can do this for failing to stop the harmful behavior if they knew about it.
Many of the lawsuits relate to the theory of "premises liability." Premises liability is when a property owner is responsible for injuries someone gets on their property. For example, these injuries must be because the owner fails to keep the property safe. The law requires a "reasonable amount of care" in providing a safe environment. The standards are higher in the context of school than they might be elsewhere because schools are to be safe places for children.
Student Rights and Responsibilities Under the Student Code of Conduct
Students attending public schools are not merely regulated. The Supreme Court has ruled that people don't shed their rights when going to school. The Court ruled that regulation is OK, such as bans on certain clothing or meetings of groups. But these bans must go in place in a non-discriminatory fashion. The bans must balance the students' free speech rights with the right to provide a safe environment.
Most schools have a code of conduct or disciplinary policy. This document generally outlines the student's rights and responsibilities within the student body. These policies are useful to know. Students and their parents should refer to school policies when problems develop.
Schools must also ensure they control environmental hazards that could harm students. Over the years, there have been recalls of school-related items. This can include BPA-lined plastic containers or clothing with drawstrings. It also includes non-insulated lunchboxes and other things. Schools must remove all asbestos, mold, or other environmental hazards.
School Safety Initiatives
Some states have implemented school safety initiatives. For example, you can call a School Safety Hotline in Georgia at 1-877-SAY-STOP. This is the nation's first school-sponsored safety hotline. It helps provide a reporting system for school crime. It works beside the justice system and tools like social media. It helps to handle school crime and prevent it swiftly.
School resource officers (SROs) have become integral to many high school campuses. These law enforcement professionals work in the school environment. They work to ensure safety and security. But, the role of the SRO is about more than just security. They are also vital in developing relationships with students. Also, SROs provide education programs promoting violence prevention.
Initiatives that promote juvenile justice and human services combine with safety plans. This is part of a broader effort.
This effort is to create a supportive environment for all students. That reduces the likelihood of violence on school grounds.
School safety and violence prevention are very critical to the school system. They're about the long-term well-being of our nation's children. As such, school administrators and the board of education must work together. Together, they can help maintain safe and supportive learning environments.
We can effectively reduce school violence in America with the right resources. If you need legal help, consider speaking to an attorney about your case.
Speak to an education lawyer today.
School Violence Articles
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.