Six fights at the 1,200-student Wilde Lake High School in Columbia this school year prompted a Dec. 4 letter from the principal to parents, seeking their help and reiterating that violence has no place in school, or society.
“I kindly ask that you take some time,” Principal Rick Wilson wrote, “to speak with your children and remind them that the adults in their lives are here to provide for their safety and to guide them though difficult situations.”
The appeal set the right tone for dealing with a serious, if infrequent, problem. But as the bromide goes, talk is cheap. Getting to the root of the problem and intervening requires sustenance.
Based on available data, it’s difficult to determine whether there’s an increase in violent incidents in the county’s schools. In the 2015 academic year, there were 242 arrests at schools but statistics for 2016 aren’t yet available. In response to a survey published in 2015 by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, nearly 8 percent of high school students nationwide said they had been in at least one physical fight during the year and 4 percent admitted carrying a gun, knife or club onto school grounds.
Schools must remain committed to swift, consistent discipline for violence and have sustained prevention programs that include training in conflict resolution, social skills, teamwork and problem-solving, all areas defined by researchers as vital to combating violence. Research also shows risk factors for violence include family dysfunction, poverty, drug use, poor grades and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Early intervention can help identify problems – faculty and staff members should reach out to students if they see or sense problems brewing rather than relying on students reporting to them.
A federal report on school violence, released more than 20 years ago, examined components of programs and policies that are essential anti-violence efforts. Findings hold true today: Programs must be long-term and comprehensive, include parents and staff, administer discipline fairly and consistently and have established links to community resources, such as counseling and social-service assistance.
Schools must maintain zero tolerance for violence, providing a safe environment. And as principal Wilson wrote, schools must provide a clear lesson that “conflict should not result in violence.”