An Examination of Public School Safety Measures across Geographic Settings

By Shelton, Andrea J.; Owens, Emiel W. et al. | Journal of School Health, January 2009 | Go to article overview

An Examination of Public School Safety Measures across Geographic Settings


Shelton, Andrea J., Owens, Emiel W., Song, Holim, Journal of School Health


Tragedies at Columbine High School in Colorado and more recently at Red Lake High School in Minnesota have forced administrators to take another serious look at safety measures at their institutions. Although such incidents occur at elementary and middle schools, data compiled since the early 1990s reveal that males at high schools are at greatest risk of death by shooting. (1) The location of the incident in the school is most frequently a classroom/ office or hallway, on school grounds in the parking lot or some other place on campus, or near the school. (1) The states with the greatest number of reported incidents are California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Colorado, documented from August 1992 to August 2007. (1) The tragedies in our public high schools and other educational institutions across the country have emphasized the need for concerted safety measures at all schools.

In recent years, schools have implemented a variety of security measures, (2) including security guards, video surveillance, school uniforms, and metal detectors. (3-5) The intent of enhanced measures is to better manage school violence and crime and reduce safety risks and liability. (1) More consideration is also being given to school safety to address natural disasters and terrorist acts. (6) Although informal reports and studies have been conducted to illustrate the necessity for increased security, there is a paucity of data that examine the degree and types of security measures that exist in schools today.

As there are no national standards, school communities employ different strategies for school security which may be influenced by the demographics of the students, (7-9) or physical attributes of the school building, such as age. (10) Results from various studies suggest that schools with large concentrations of ethnic and language minority students generally have less security compared to schools made up of majority group students. (3,9,11) It has also been noted that schools with high concentrations of low-income families have less school security compared to schools with more advantaged students. (12) Most of these studies, however, have been relatively small comparing either 2 schools or a limited number of districts. Larger, national studies are needed to determine the degree and types of school security that exist and to examine if safety measures are practiced consistently across community settings in all geographic regions of the United States.

The purposes of the present study were to compare and contrast school security measures at public high schools throughout the country. This study compared school security in schools from 3 different community settings--urban, suburban and rural schools, and 4 geographic regions of the country--Northeast, Midwest, West, and South.

METHOD

Sample

Data for this study were drawn from the base year survey from the 10th-grade cohort of the Educational Longitudinal Survey (ELS) of 2002-2004. The ELS:2002-2004 (13) survey design covered a 2-stage, stratified national probability sample. Sample weights were provided and used in the analysis. The sample weights allowed for population generalizations from the data. The survey included 1052 public schools representing approximately 16,000 across the country. Those representing the community settings included 2554 urban, 6543 suburban, and 6974 rural schools. The regional representation of the sample included 2363 northeastern, 4659 midwestern, 5589 southern, and 3460 western schools.

Instrument

The survey examined the school-related security measures as reported by a school administrator. School security measures were divided into 3 major categories: fire safety measures, facility safety measures, and internal safety measures. The items recognized as fire safety measures were fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and fire sprinklers. The items identified as facility safety measures included metal detectors, security cameras, fencing around the entire school, and exterior lighting. …

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