School Safety Study Shows Mixed Results

Fewer Fights, Weapons on School Property, but More Teens Fear for Their Safety

From the WebMD Archives

July 29, 2004 -- In 1999, the nation recoiled in horror as two teens went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing a teacher and 12 students. The tragedy and similar events have left a deep scar on America's schools. Despite massive initiatives to improve school safety, a new report from the CDC says an increasing number of teens have avoided class in recent years because they felt it was unsafe.

The concerns are not unwarranted; In 2003, one in three high school students reported taking part in at least one physical fight. About one in 16 admitted they carried a weapon on school property.

Yet, despite the onslaught of high-profile school violence, most violence-related behavior among teens in general has decreased over the last 12 years.

The CDC analyzed Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) taken from more than 10,000 white, black, and Hispanic high school students in public and private schools.

The data showed that significantly fewer students were involved in physical fights (42% in 1991 vs. 33% in 2003) both on and off school grounds. The trend remained steady among ninth, 10th, and 12th graders. Fighting among 11th graders dropped during the first eight years, then leveled off. Despite the declines, no overall change was seen in children reporting being injured as a result of physical violence.

While many students still admitted carrying weapons to school, the number of teens doing so dropped considerably from 1991 to 2003, from 12% to 6%.

The decreases seen in weapon carrying and physical fighting (both on and off school grounds) appear to go hand-in-hand with a drop in the national youth homicide rate, the CDC reports.

The analysis also revealed:

  • Fewer fights on school property: 16% in 1993 vs. 13% in 2003
  • Fewer students carried weapons: 26% in 1991 vs. 17% in 2003. A significant decline was seen among blacks, Hispanics, and children in ninth grade.
  • An increase in children reporting not going to school because of safety concerns: 4% in 1991 vs. 5% in 2003
  • A slight jump in the overall number of students being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, from 7% in 1993 to 9% in 2003, especially among white and ninth-grade students
  • A decrease in the number of black students being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in 1993-1999, followed by an increase in 2000-2003

Researchers say although the data suggest encouraging reductions in certain violence-related areas, it is important for schools and communities to establish and maintain physical and social environments that promote safety and violence prevention. Curbing fights among teens and reducing the number of weapons on school grounds are among the top the national health objectives for 2010.