Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said there have been about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the past 20 years.
The numbers don’t include a string of recent shootings at colleges and universities. Just last week, a man was shot and critically wounded at the Palm Bay Campus of Eastern Florida State College, according to police.
Finding factors to blame, rightfully or not, is almost the easy part: bad parenting, easy access to guns, less value for the sanctity of life, violent video games, a broken mental health system.
Stopping the violence isn’t.
“I think that’s one of the major problems. There are not easy answers,” Stephens said. “A line I often use is, ‘Do everything you can, knowing you can’t do everything.’ “
Schools generally are much safer than they were five, 10 or 15 years ago, Stephens said. While a single death is one too many, Stephens noted that perspective is important. In Chicago there were 500 homicides in 2012, about the same number in the nation’s 132,000-plus K-12 schools over two decades.
“I believe schools are much safer than they used to be, but clearly they still have a good ways to go,” Stephens said.
The recent budget deal in Congress provides $140 million to support safe school environments, and is a $29 million increase, according to the office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
About 90 percent of districts have tightened security since the Newtown shootings, estimates Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Many schools now have elaborate school safety plans and more metal detectors, surveillance cameras and fences. They’ve taken other steps, too, such as requiring ID badges and dress codes. Similar to fire drills, some schools practice locking down classrooms, among their responses to potential violence.