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Cyberbullying, Mental Health, and Other School-Safety Takeaways for School Reopening

Many schools will not be opening their door to full-time, in-person instruction this fall, as COVID-19 continues to spread.. But student safety and wellness will still be an issue for school and district leaders, as federal data show.

A new annual joint report by the federal Education and Justice departments on school crime and safety finds that while the rates of students ages 12 to 18 who are victims of crime have continued to decline nationwide since 1992, students are more than twice as likely to be victims in-school—about 33 out of every 1,000 students—than out, at about 16 victims out of every 1,000.

Those rates will almost certainly drop in the next school year, as many districts opt to have students learn from home full- or part-time. Yet remote-learning environments could present their own safety concerns, as schools grapple with how to combat cyberbullying, help students cope with neighborhood tensions and violence, and identify which students are suffering from mental and emotional problems related to the pandemic and school closures.

The federal data give a picture of the state of crime and safety in U.S. schools before the pandemic:

Younger grades that do not allow students private messaging or email may have fewer problems with bullying during online classroom settings, but it may also be more difficult for adults to catch wind of problems among students in social media. Moreover, experts have suggested the combination of increased physical isolation from peers and rising dependence on social media could worsen the rising rates of suicide among older students and teenagers.

School leaders have already voiced concern about the difficulty in identifying mental health problems and providing supports for students who are struggling during remote learning. As the data show, schools often serve as the only mental health supports for significant portions of their students.

This year, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which jointly produce the annual school crime and safety study, highlighted concerns around how problems in students' neighborhoods can affect their learning. For example, as communities across the country continue to be rocked by protests calling for racial justice, the study finds racial tensions in a child's neighborhood can be nearly as academically damaging as crime.

In 2017-18, the study also found 80 percent of schools had at least one incident of violence, theft, or other crimes, but less than half reported an incident to police. That rate has been flat since 2015-16, but lower than in any year from 2000 to 2010. Only 15 percent of schools reported any serious violent crimes to the police, though there was no information available about where or what kind of schools they were.

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