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Students Feel Safer at School; Fewer Incidents Reported, Federal Data Show

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A decades-long decline in reports of violent and non-violent student incidents continued in U.S. public schools, federal data released Tuesday show. And rates of students who report feeling unsafe at school have also declined.

In 2015, there were 33 victimizations per 1,000 students ages 12 to 18 at school, according to the report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2016. That's a decline from 181 victimizations per 1,000 students in 1992, an 82 percent drop, the report says.

The percentage of students who reported "being afraid of attack or harm" at school also dropped over the past two decades, declining from 11.8 percent in 1995 to 3.3 percent in 2015, the report said.

Those figures stand in contrast to the sometimes high-profile portrayals of schools as unsafe places in venues ranging from television shows and social media and to school board and statehouse hearings.

"Overall, bullying and victimization is down in our schools and crime has decreased at our colleges and universities, but there is much work left to be done," Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a statement. "The data show that many students do not feel safe at school and are victimized physically, verbally, and emotionally. It is my hope that this report will help inform discussions about what can be done to improve the safety climate in education." 

This graph, pulled from the report, shows trends of victimization per 1,000 students ages 12-18. Victimizations include non-violent offenses like theft and violent offenses like rape and assault.

non-violent and violent incidents in schools

Deaths in Schools

There were a total of 48 violent deaths, including suicides and homicides of both adults and children at school in 2013-14, according to the most recent data. That included 26 homicides, 20 suicides, one "legal intervention" death, which is a death involving a law enforcement officer, and one "undetermined violent death," according to the report. Twelve homicides and 8 suicides were of children ages 5-18. Here's a chart that shows trends over time. 

deaths and suicides at schoolBullying at School

Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of students who reported being bullied in a school setting or through cyberbullying decreased from 28 to 21 percent, the report found.

As I've written previously, bullying is defined inconsistently across federal reports. This report doesn't ask students about bullying in general. Rather, it asks they if they've been victim of a list of offenses that include being made fun of or insulted, being pushed or shoved, being excluded from activities on purpose, and being threatened with harm.

Among students who reported bullying, 66.8 percent said it happened once or twice during the school year, 19.3 percent said it happened once or twice a month, 9.6 percent said once or twice a week, and 4.2 percent said it happened almost every day.

Thirty-four percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students reported that they had been bullied on school property compared to 19 percent of their heterosexual peers, the report found. Rates of cyberbullying were also higher for those students, at 28 percent, compared to 14 percent of heterosexual students. The report did not include findings for transgender students as most federal surveys do not address gender identity.

This year's report is the first to break down peer victimization data on 3rd-grade students. 

"In the spring of 2014, about 15 percent of third-graders reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names by other students; 22 percent were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories; 14 percent were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked; and 15 percent were frequently excluded from play on purpose," NCES said in a summary of the report's findings.


Further reading about school violence and school safety:

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