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School violence by the numbers

School gangs, dangerous weapons, brutal murders. Headline-making news has parents believing they’re on the rise, but how common is violence in our children's schools?

By Manuel Rapada

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Murders and suicides at school

1.1 — Percent of homicides of children ages 5 to 18 at school during the 2008-2009 school year

December 14, 2012: A man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, killing 20 first-grade students and six school staff members. The Newtown tragedy is one of the most violent school days in American history, even worse than the Columbine High School massacre in April, 1999.

These events are unspeakably sad and terrifying and when they happen, they reverberate through society. Still, such crimes are rarities and school remains one of the safest places for children. Most indicators of school violence — including gang activity, weapons brought on campus, and theft — are all significantly down from highs as far back as the 1990s. Others, such as the percentage of homicides occurring on school grounds, have remained fairly flat.

Of the millions of students who attend public schools every year, 17 were killed during the 2009-2010 school year. The proportion of youth homicides occurring at school has held steady at around 1 to 2 percent since the 1992-1993 school year, with peaks in 1998-1999 (when the Columbine shooting occurred) and most recently in 2006-2007 (the year of an Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania that killed five girls), according to CDC and FBI data.

Less than one percent of youth suicides have also occurred at schools since 1992-1993.

Manuel Rapada is an education journalist who divides his time between Chicago and San Francisco.