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Is your school safe for your child?

Concerned about safety issues at your child's school? Take these questions along on your next visit, and get an insider's view.

By GreatSchools Staff

School climate isn't just about safety; it's about how it feels to be on the campus and how it feels to be a member of the school's community.

The first question to ask your school's staff is "How do you create a healthy campus climate?" The answer to this question can tell you a lot about the school's values and priorities.

Take a look around

The best way to get a sense for the school climate is to go to the school yourself. Always be sure to make an appointment with the principal before you visit a school. After you've spent some time there, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel comfortable on the school grounds?
  • Do you feel that there are adequate precautions in place to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the school?
  • Do the students and staff seem to be respectful of and engaged with each other?
  • Is the campus tidy? Do you see excessive amounts of litter on the grounds, in the hallways, or in the classrooms?
  • Do you see signs of vandalism or graffiti?
  • What's the condition of the restrooms and cafeteria?

Ask questions

While you're on campus, talk with the principal, teachers, and students. Ask students if they feel safe at school and if they feel safe on the way to and from school. Do students get the feeling that adults in the school community know them and care about them? What do teachers and students think about some of the programs or philosophies that the school has established to deal with school safety issues? The physical condition of the campus can also tell a lot about the attitude of the people who spend their days there.

Discipline policies

In the past decade, many schools have taken special measures to strengthen discipline at school. You will want to learn which procedures and policies your school has adopted to create a safe environment for students and staff. Questions to ask include:

  • Is there a dress code? What are its provisions?
  • Do students wear uniforms?
  • Does the school have a code of conduct? How do students learn about disciplinary policies?
  • Are students involved in setting rules or expectations of behavior? If so, how?
  • Does the school use metal detectors or employ security guards?

You may also want to investigate your school district's policy on weapons. Many schools have become very strict with regard to this particular issue.

When numbers don't add up

While many parents ask to see data about the suspensions and expulsions at a school, it's difficult to draw quick or simple conclusions from these numbers. A high rate of suspensions or expulsions may indicate that a school is more serious than most about cracking down on discipline problems to maintain an environment suitable for teaching and learning. Or perhaps it means that the school is relatively quick to send away students who pose modest challenges to authority. If you're concerned about a number that seems high (or unusually low), you'll want to ask the principal about it. Remember: statistics are not answers in themselves; rather, they are useful tools to help you discover the right questions to ask.

Comments from readers

"this wedsight is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "
"I think a good way to tell if a school is safe is the surrounding area"
"I have identical twin sons in the sixth grade. There is a group of about seven kids that keep calling them gay. My children have gone to the school officals about this, and it still hasn't stopped. I went to the principle of the school myself and still my son was called gay the very next day. What can I do about this? Is the school some how liable for this not being stopped?"
"My child is being phyisically harrassed at school, by this bully that is from New Orleans. We live in Texas and in my family we were not raised to fight with anyone. Can anyone give me advise on what to do as in keeping this kid away from mine. Does anyone know if I can press charges on a kid like this. This kid is about 12 years old and my daughter is 11 years old. Thank-you"
"I'm not a parent, but I am a student. I had to do a project on security at my school. I found out that my school is not secure at all. I asked to talk to the principal, but my teacher said he's taking care of it already. I don't feel safe at school and I don't feel the teachers care either."
">From my experience there should be lav guards. This is one place male or female that you can get pounced on.Also in the locker rooms especially during practices. Coaches shouldn't be in an office with closed door and windows. This is when the worse comes out of (you made us look bad on the field now you pay) Boyfriend and girlfriend does not exist inside of school (claims on a male or female start major fights and retaliation including the friends inside and outside of school)"
"I've just found out about a new service that allows schools to send text message alerts out to parents for school-related events & during emergency situations. Right now, the service is being offered for free to both schools and parents. And I think it's another great way for schools and parents to communicate with each other ( I have 2 kids in middle school & 1 in high school, this service would keep me informed. What do you think? Tell me what you think..."
"Excellent ideas. However, you left out the MOST IMPORTANT aspect in the discipline area: Does your potential school allow the use of corporal punishment? If so, run the other direction and find another school district that completely bans the use of punitive, physical punishment. It has NO business in any school, and the repercusions of using can and often is devastating to a student and parent looking to find a school that encourages kids and protects them."
"Corporal punishment is a part of school culture. It's use makes a school unsafe. It has been my experience that when an adult wields a paddle to threaten children, it sets a tone in the halls that bullying and violence are tolerated. When adults hit children and bruise them, the system says it was in the name of discipline. Yet these same teachers are mandated by law to report bruises on these school children if parental abuse is suspected. Not right. I am on the board of directors for a national organization called Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. Every parent has the right to know who is hitting children. It is a symptom of a diseased school culture. When the adults resort to picking up a wooden board and assaulting children in the private region, be alert that this system will be backwards in so much of its mindset. It is written to be used as 'last resort', but in many schools it is the favorite method. Test schools fall and misconduct rises in schools that use corporal punishment. It is used more on boys, minorities, and the disabled. We see this in our schools system. There have been multiple issues with teachers throwing objects at students, taping mouths shut, forced excessive group exercise for punishment, denial of bathroom use, having students stand in the corner holding a piece of furniture overhead, faculty putting hands down children's pants to enforce a tuck in policy. When the administration knows that they have the option of hitting your child for ANY reason they see fit, all sorts of other misconducts seem to be acceptable. Parents are not treated with respect in many cases either, because the administration who hits also bullies parents. It is a parent's right to know what the policies are. You should be very concerned about this. Would you hire a babysitter who showed up with a wooden board with holes drilled in it and told you she could maintain order while you are gone? "
" i think that in all schools there should be more adult supervision and pepole to watch out for children on the campus , and there should be someone posted around bathrooms at all times especially in the middle schools and high schools , and on the pe fields swo much goes on that could be prevented if there were more pepole took and placed someone at the restrooms ,"
"My son was hit in the jaw at school in the hallway before classes. The other child broke my son's jaw in two places. My son's jaw is wired shut for 6-8 weeks. During this time he cannot eat, throw a snowball, nor take pe classes. My son had to have major surgery to get a plate put in his jaw. He has to see his surgeon each week for a check. What happened to the other kid?? The bully?? He was suspended for 2 weeks. He stayed home alone. He is 13 years old."
"what I would like to know is why isn't there an actual list of school districts that allow corporal punishment, or even those who don't. I have been researching this subject for over 2 hours and have found nothing but the state wide laws. If anyone knows of a list please let me know."
"I totally do NOT believe that any person in the school, students included, should be allowed to strike anyone else. Violence is not the answer. There are a multitude of strategies that can be used to correct a problem. Put a phone in the classrooms or at least put one with easy access for a teacher. This does make a difference. If anything, mom and dad will get annoyed by being disturbed with a phonecall and hopefully do something about it at home. I worked in a school system for years and found other ways to correct a problem. First and foremostly, Mom and Dad, take responsibility of your child. Get involved. Ask questions. Let your child see that YOU ARE visible. You'd be surprised at the outcome. "
"My friend is a substitute teacher in Charlotte, NC. He called School Security about students roaming around outside the school, disrupting his class by peering in the windows, and then walking into a natural area a small distance away from school. Security came out to his class (finally after 3 calls) and told him not to worry they were 'just going up to the 'club''. How sad that the teachers aren't getting the support & the administration lets it happen. "
"I agree with The State of Texas remarks. I have taken my son out of Public School because of bullying issues, my son was locked in a band locker for about 10-15 minutes finally the Teacher noticed. And it continued with pushing him into trash cans, hallways, hitting, stealing his lunch money, name calling and you should get the picture he was only 11 years old at the time. He was an A-B student and his grades went to C's, D's and yes F's. We were told by the school that our son started things and the three others were little angles. I can't afford private school at the moment so we decided to Home School until the end of the year. Our son is back up to A-B's and Home School is much harder then Public. San Antonio, Texas has a terrible Public School system and the bullying is the worst. If you think your child is being bullied take some type of action don't wait like I did it could hurt your child. I wish I would have stood ground and let the new media become aware of the truth. Children only reflect what is tought to them by their parents and what the schools allows to take place. I did always wonder what happen to Teaching? The State of Texas has some good Teachers but the bad out rank the good ones and that is why I will never vote to give them a raise. Children leave school learning nothing and become bullies at the office. "
"Better a paddle than a prison! As a formerly paddled student, I agree that corporal punishment should be an option for teachers. If a child doesn't learn respect at home for adults/teachers, there must be consequences. And when all non-physical options have been exhausted, a couple of swats should be permitted. "
"I was outraged to read that Alabama protects inflicting pain to a child at the hands of anyone - let alone a teacher! Teachers are role models -what kind of message is being giving to a child when a person with a title can hit them! If a child requires discipline, there are many other ways to address the problem. I would never live in or support a state that has such mentality in its government. Laws should protect our children not protect abuse. "
"Outrage. My daughter will be 12 in October and I have never spanked her. I do believe in discipline but feel there are many other more effective methods than inflicting physical pain to promote good behavior out of fear. I see where teachers would be inclined to use corporal punishment as it would be easier to force good behavior in a child rather than actually think of ways that would entice good behavior in a child. If I don't hit my own child whom I love dearly then how can the state force me to allow a school employee who doesnt love my child to hit her? I feel that a school should respect and work together with the parent. If hitting is not done at home then I feel a letter to the school requesting other forms of discipline be used on the child is not too much to ask. "
"A tip on what to tell your child before he/she is paddled: Instruct the child to fall to the ground with the first blow and lay there limply until they call you (the parent). This should prevent more blows and get the parents on the scene where they can stop this travesty. Physical punishment is abuse, pure and simple. "
"I am in california and the elementary school my children attend has brushed under the carpet the whole bully thing. My one child was continuely harrased when trying to use the bathroom. So bad that would not use it till returning home. On a dailey basis he is socked, teased or some sort of negative response to going to school. I have gone through the proper channels and brought to the attention of the principal and vice principal along with other teachers, only to be told well kids do these things. I'm sorry when I was in school I never indured the things my children are having to face. Theres sexual harasement being given a two day suspension only to then return to the classroom with the victim because they can't do anything about relocating the child who did harassing. No instead a achild who has a perfect school record is being told to relocate to where she will know nobody and will be away from fellow classmates whom attended school together for the last 5 years. I send my children to school in hopes to learn, be safe. All I have experienced is the telling of how these disruptive children interfered with yet another day of school, and how these bullies got away assulting yet another child. What has become of our schools that this what our children go to school for. "
"Being safe at school should also include health problem. ... When [my grandchild] is away from this school, after going to the doctor, he gets better. Once he returns to this school, the problems return. This child is not the only child have these problems. The school nurse, should be aware that a child is sick other than assuming that child just misses the parent. When a child has trouble breathing, that is not missing his parent. When a child misses school, the school should consider an illness, not just send out letters saying they are going to take the parent to court. If they can send out treating letters why can't they send out a letter of concern. How old is this school? Has it been checked for MOLD that seems to be creating health problems. Make sure a school nurse is a NURSE not just someone there taking up space. Someone needs to report this to the school and maybe the health department. I don't live in TX. Protect your children, all the children. This school has a major problem and the staff/district is more concerned with getting their state money for attendance. "
"I think while focusing on disapline also be creative in imparting a joy and real interest in learning, because after all, is'nt that's what going to school is all about! Because of our broken homes and other personal tradgedies that invade our lives, I just hope educators would take heart and keep this in mind for the sake of our children getting and education. [.....and justice for all.] "
"As a student at Vina elementary school, I really am not feeling safe becuase my school does do alot of punishment to the [kids] who are not totally equiped to a good life and have some problems. As I go on, you see say if you were threatend the person would only get 3-5 days of not coming to school, then after that what are you going to do. the person just romes around freely. How are you supposed to feel safe. I say if you want to keep us feeling safer then you better giv a little more punishment or something. Maybe even give some student counciling to the one who was threatend and to the one that treatend and give it together so maybe they can get something worked and fine what they need to do to get along better. "
"As a teacher in a middle school, I feel much more safe in our school since they installed a phone at each teacher's desk. Discipline and parental involvement has improved as a result of the phones too. "
"Parents must ask if their school uses corporal punishment. Paddling is legal in Alabama and since 1995, all school employees (teachers, bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria workers) are permitted by law to paddle any child at school without regard for the child protection act. Bottom line.Alabama schools may hit any child in the name of discipline even if the parent objects. This is current Alabama law (Title 16)also indemnifies teachers no matter how outragious the discipline. My 1st grade son's bruises lasted 12 days. He was paddled for picking his nose. "