The importance of focusing on improving the social atmosphere and getting kids to feel connected to their school has been demonstrated by the results of the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health and by a study of school violence done by the Secret Service. Both found that the most effective way to try to prevent violence is to promote positive senses of family, school and community.
By doing that, school administrators will not only improve students' safety, but also improve how they perform in the classroom, said Maurice Elias, a professor of education at Rutgers University.
"What we're seeing is that more and more kids are suffering in schools and while they're suffering they can explode — this is what schools are learning as a result of Columbine," he said. "The other thing they're learning is that when kids are suffering, they're not learning.
"There's a recognition that the level of comfort and well-being in a school is an important factor not only in controlling violence, but in turning out kids who are better learners and better citizens," he said.
Schools Hindered by Budget, Time Constraints
Just taking law enforcement measures with a get-tough attitude might help keep weapons out of school and provide the opportunity for a quick, forceful response if fights or other violent incidents occur. But educators and security experts say it will not address the causes of the problem — which is how kids treat each other and how they feel about their place in school and the community.
In all of the major shooting incidents, the children who carried out the killings had been bullied and ostracized — practices that are regular behavior among teenagers. A survey of 500 teenagers done by the National Crime Prevention Council in December 2002 found that 61 percent said they witnessed someone being bullied or taunted at least once a day.
That is a problem for schools, long before a child gets to the point where he or she might be ready to strike back, educators say. And the result is not a threat of violence.
"If you have a child who is bullied a great deal, you may get an increase in truancy, an increase in ailments, an increase in absences," said Widener University education professor Roger Place, who was a superintendent in Pennsylvania schools for 25 years.
"Bullying affects student achievement."
That point is one that administrators can forget, as they deal with strained budgets and rising pressure from state policies and the standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind program to raise standardized test scores.
"I'll talk with superintendents about it and they'll say, 'We can't fit it in. We've got to get the test scores up,' " King said. "As kids feel safer in the school they feel greater connection to the school and they tend to do better academically."
And that is what schools are supposed to be about.