Violence Affecting School Employees

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Schools have traditionally been thought of as safe havens for students and employees. However, recent incidents have threatened the sense of security usually found in educational institutions. The images of the Columbine High School attacks in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 are still shown today in the media. In his award winning movie "Bowling for Columbine," Michael Moore (Moore, 2002) showed graphic footage of the massacre that was captured on the video cameras of Columbine High School. Unfortunately, Columbine is not the only school that has experienced the tragedy of school violence in the last 5-10 years. Since 1999, deadly incidents of school violence have occurred in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alaska, Washington, Tennessee, New Mexico, Oregon, California, Minnesota and Florida. The vast majority of media coverage about school violence today focuses on violent attacks by students against fellow students. A search of media coverage reveals newspaper headlines, news accounts, and journal articles about violence against students but limited information about violence against employees of the schools.

Definitions

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, various government bodies, private groups, and educational researchers have focused on the issue of violence in schools. To understand the scope and implications of this issue, the term "violence" must be defined as it pertains to school employees. Definitions found in the literature seem very broad and diverse with no consensus on one definition. "Violence" in schools can range from verbally swearing at a school counselor to verbally threatening an administrator with bodily harm to pushing a custodian in a school hallway to physically fighting with a bus driver to killing a teacher with a handgun. For purposes of this paper, "violence" against employees in schools is defined as "physical harm (e. g. hitting, pushing, throwing objects at, or damaging property of the employee), or threats of such harm, towards employees of schools." "Employees" are defined as "anyone paid for work by and for the school, including but not limited to, teachers, administrators, custodial and service staff, coaches, and part-time employees."

Background of Violence in Schools

Violence has occurred in schools over history. The federal government has collected data about the safety of American schools from school principals for several decades. The first large study, the Safe School Study, was administered to principals, teachers, and students in the 1970's (NCES, 2003). More recently the violent events have garnered increased media coverage due to the dramatic nature of the crimes. In this age of instant communications and open dialogue, the media has almost been forced to report deaths and other violent acts in schools. As such, violence in schools has warranted more attention by researchers and the schools themselves.

Some report the incidence of violence in schools in general in the U.S. to have increased over time (Gaughan, 2001; Tjaden, 1998) while others state it has remained constant (NCES, 2003). In any case, the level is higher than most would prefer. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) stated that 71% of public elementary and secondary schools experienced at least one violent incident in the 1999-2000 school year and 36% reported at least one violent crime to the police during that time (NCES, 2003). According to the NCES national report, violent incidents were most commonly some form of physical altercation. These incidents were more likely to occur in secondary schools (as compared to elementary or middle schools), urban schools (compared to suburban or rural), and larger schools (versus smaller schools). The majority of non-violent crimes continued to be thefts (NCES, 2003). However, there seem to be notable recent increases in U.S. schools in bullying (NCES, 2003) and increases in violence in elementary schools (Wallis, 2003). …