Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety
These reports present key findings on crime and violence in U.S. public schools, using data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). First administered in the spring of the 1999–2000 school year and repeated in school years 2003–04, 2005–06, 2007–08, 2009–10, 2015–16, and 2017–18, SSOCS provides information about school crime-related topics from the school’s perspective. SSOCS asks public school principals to report the frequency of violent incidents, such as physical attacks, robberies, vandalism, and thefts in their schools. Portions of this survey also focus on programs, disciplinary actions, and policies implemented to prevent and reduce crime and violence in schools.
The 2017–18 survey (SSOCS:2018) was developed and managed by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education with supplemental funding provided by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice. SSOCS:2018 is based on a nationally representative stratified random sample of 4,803 U.S. public elementary and secondary schools.
Selected Findings from the 2017–18 Survey
- During the 2017–18 school year, an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 65 percent reported having at least one nonviolent incident.
- Some 66 percent of schools reported at least one physical attack or fight without a weapon, compared with 3 percent of schools that reported such an attack with a weapon.
- A higher percentage of schools located in towns reported at least one incident of theft at school (44 percent) than did schools located in cities (36 percent), suburbs (32 percent), and rural areas (29 percent). In contrast, a higher percentage of schools located in cities reported at least one incident of vandalism (40 percent) than did schools located in suburbs (33 percent), towns (31 percent), and rural areas (27 percent).
- During the 2017–18 school year, there were an estimated 3,600 incidents nationwide involving the possession of a firearm or explosive device at school.
- A higher percentage of middle schools reported that student bullying occurred at school at least once a week (28 percent) than did high schools (16 percent) or primary schools (9 percent). Also, higher percentages of middle and high schools reported that cyberbullying occurred at school or away from school at least once a week (33 and 30 percent, respectively) than did primary schools (5 percent).
- Some 35 percent of disciplinary actions taken by schools in response to student involvement in the use or possession of a weapon other than a firearm or explosive device involved an out-of-school suspension lasting 5 or more days, 14 percent involved the transfer of students to specialized schools, and 5 percent involved the removal of students with no continuing services for at least the remainder of the school year.
- Lower percentages of schools located in towns (38 percent) and rural areas (34 percent) reported having a threat assessment team during the 2017–18 school year than did schools located in cities (50 percent) and suburbs (49 percent).
- Of the written plans that schools may have to address various crisis scenarios, the ones reported most commonly were for natural disasters (94 percent), active shooters (92 percent), and bomb threats or incidents (91 percent).
- Among schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment, half (50 percent) reported involving students in restorative circles. Lower percentages of schools with less than 5 percent, 5-20 percent, and 20-50 percent minority enrollment reported involving students in restorative circles (28, 35, and 38 percent, respectively).
- Schools were asked whether certain factors limited their efforts to reduce or prevent crime “in a major way.” The three factors reported most often were inadequate funds (36 percent); a lack of alternative placements or programs for disruptive students (34 percent); and federal, state, or district policies on disciplining special education students (19 percent).
- About 46 percent of traditional public schools had a School Resource Officer present at school at least once a week, compared with only 19 percent of charter schools. Conversely, a higher percentage of charter schools than traditional public schools had a security guard or other security personnel present at least once a week (35 vs. 21 percent).
- A higher percentage of schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement office who routinely carried a firearm (79 percent) than schools with 500-999 students (52 percent), schools with 300-499 students (36 percent), and schools with less than 300 students (34 percent).
- In the school year 2017–18, about 51 percent of schools provided diagnostic mental health assessments to evaluate students for mental health disorders and 38 percent provided treatment to students for mental health disorders.
More information about the SSOCS survey and other SSOCS products can be found at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ssocs/.