Preventing School Violence

January 1, 2002
Austin, Texas

The tragic massacre of students and others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, guarantees that school safety will remain at the forefront of educators', parents', and students' minds for the indefinite future. Preventing school violence will certainly continue to be of high priority for national, state, and local policymakers as well. Many resources are available to anyone who wishes to study research, policies, and practices that offer potentially successful methods of preventing and dealing with violence in schools.

Risk Factors

According to most of these resources students, parents, community members, educators, and policymakers all play a role in ensuring safe schools. Among the risk factors said to influence youth violence are:

  • physical trauma at a young age;
  • a lack of clear expectations, supervision, and consistent discipline for children;
  • physical abuse or excessively severe punishment;
  • a home or community context of violence, extreme poverty, unemployment, high crime, high population density, or social disorganization and detachment;
  • association with peers engaged in violence;
  • a lack of clear rules and enforcement of school rules and policies;
  • ineffective academic instruction.

Ways to Help Prevent and End School Violence

These factors make it apparent that school officials alone cannot prevent youth violence. Some of the key ways educators and administrators can help include:

  1. Promote clear nonviolent and prosocial norms and behaviors and a climate of emotional support;
  2. Maintain a strong academic focus and work to ensure academic success for all students;
  3. Enforce rules consistently and fairly;
  4. Instill a commitment to learning;
  5. Implement practices in classrooms and recreational areas that encourage social bonding to school and academic success;
  6. Teach skills for resolving conflict nonviolently;
  7. Create a violence prevention and response plan and a team that will implement it;
  8. Watch for early warning signs of troubled children and intervene early with students who are at risk for behavioral problems;
  9. Minimize the availability and acceptance of weapons;
  10. Work with the community to create a well-designed violence prevention system in which everyone can be involved;
  11. Be prepared to respond and intervene in case of crisis or violent acts.


Following are some resources that provide research and practice-based strategies and information that may assist policymakers and others who are working to ensure that schools are safe places for young people to be:

  • The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV), founded in 1992 with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides information and technical assistance for understanding and preventing violence, with a focus on adolescent violence. CSPV has fact sheets available online on such topics as Reducing School Violence; Ethnicity, Race, Class, and Adolescent Violence; Juvenile Aggression; Gangs and Youth Violence; Safe School Planning; Preventing Firearm Violence; School Violence and Social Conditions; Urban After-School Programs; and Community Policing, Schools, and Mental Health.


  • Partnerships Against Violence Network (PAVNET) Online is a "virtual library of information about violence and youth-at-risk, representing data from seven different Federal agencies." They refer to themselves as a "one-stop, searchable, information resource to help reduce redundancy in information management and provide clear and comprehensive access to information for states and local communities." The seven agencies are the U.S. Departments of Education, Agriculture, Labor, Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).


  • The National Youth Gang Center offers an extensive list of publications available online on the topics of youth violence and gang involvement.


  • "Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools" from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is a guide to help school personnel, parents, community members and others identify early indicators of troubling and potentially dangerous student behavior. The guide offers research-based practices designed to assist school communities in identifying these warning signs early and developing prevention, intervention and crisis response plans. A PDF version of this document is also available for downloading.


  • The National Center for Education Statistics March 1998 document, "Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-97" describes key findings from a school violence survey conducted with a "nationally representative sample of 1,234 regular public elementary, middle, and secondary schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the spring and summer of 1997." The survey requested information on the incidence of crime and violence that occurred in public schools during the 1996-97 academic year; the school leaders' perceptions about the seriousness of discipline issues in their schools; the types of disciplinary actions schools took against students for serious offenses; and the kinds of security measures and violence prevention programs that were in place in public schools.