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Violence and Weapons

Two major issues are central to the school safety debate—Fourth Amendment rights in search and seizure and the extent of a school’s authority in controlling the school environment and its occupants. Although all states impose minimal guidelines, each school and school district is responsible for its own governing policies. Setting the standard for all states is the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act passed which amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Title IV of the Improving Schools Act, called Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities, outlines legislation and initiatives to make schools safe. For example, one of the goals of national education was to have drug-free and weapons-free school campuses by the year 2000 and, further, to offer students “a disciplined environment that is conducive to learning.”

Violence in school has received much public attention during the past several years because incidents of school violence in which students and/or teachers have died of gunshot wounds have occurred across the United States from Springfield, Oregon to Edinboro, Pennsylvania. However, according to various sources, the number of violent crimes committed on school grounds has been declining for several years, following decreases in other violent crime (see Agnew, 2000; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), 1999; U. S. Department of Education (USEd), 1999). In fact, students are three times more likely to be victims of a non-fatal violent crime outside of school than they are at school (Agnew, 2000). The one type of violent crime committed on school grounds that has increased is the number of multiple victim homicides (OJJDP, 1999; USEd, 1999), but the odds of a student being a victim of such a homicide are about one in three million (Brezina & Wright, 2000).

The school setting is unique in that it forces large groups of people together for extended periods of time in small areas. Many state legislatures have recognized that certain acts committed under these circumstances have potentially greater harmful effects to the health and safety of people and have implemented legislation accordingly.

Inside Violence and Weapons