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Friday, December 13, 2013

Survey Examines School Safety Changes Since Newtown

A kindergarten teacher prepares her students for a classroom lockdown drill February 18, 2003 in Oahu, Hawaii. Lockdown procedure is used to protect school children from possible threats. (Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

A kindergarten teacher prepares her students for a classroom lockdown drill February 18, 2003 in Oahu, Hawaii. Lockdown procedure is used to protect school children from possible threats. (Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

In the year since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are students any safer? A new survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health takes a closer look at school safety nationwide.

Harvard School of Public Health professor Robert Blendon was co-director of the poll, and joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti with details on the findings.

Interview Highlights: Robert Blendon

On security changes in elementary schools

“Parents of kids at elementary schools, six out of 10 thought that the security at their child’s school had improved over this year. And they were able to list the number of things that were going on. Now, we’re talking about elementary schools. Requiring visitors to be checked in, counseling kids that look like they’re in trouble. We’re talking about, again, very young kids. A third now have police officer or armed security. … A smaller share now find themselves at elementary schools where people have agreed to do random searches of lockers, and occasionally students.”

On security changes in high schools

“We also were able to look at high school students, and the changes were not as great over this year because actually the real changes came in 1999 after the Columbine shootings in Colorado. … In 1999, half of high schools had a police or security guard. It is now 70 percent. And random searches go from one in five, to one in three today. So there is a lot more that has gone on in high schools as a response to the shootings, and these efforts have most parents feeling that their kids’ schools are relatively safe, but not minority parents or low-income.”

On communities without improved security

“African American parents and people in low-income communities don’t feel that their schools offer their children the same safety. … The ability to move forward has not touched — the way you would have hoped — every school in America, and we have not been able to reassure every parent over this year. And that’s very important”

Guest

  • Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard School of Public Health.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the worst school shootings in American history. In the year since then, are students safer? A new survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health takes a closer look at this question.

And Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis, joins us now in the studio. He co-directed this poll. Professor Blendon, welcome.

ROBERT BLENDON: Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So regarding the school safety portion of the poll, I should say that you polled family members - parents, grandparents - about their impressions of what's happening at their local school. You didn't actually go out and talk to school administrators themselves.

BLENDON: No, it's actually the parents' perceptions, which is very important because many security officers might know other things that were going on. But the question is how the parents or family members feel about the safety of their own children.

CHAKRABARTI: So tell me a little bit about that. In the year since what happened at Newtown, what did the parents and grandparents tell you?

BLENDON: So we were able to focus on youngsters at all different schools. So let's talk about elementary schools. Parents of kids in elementary schools, six out of 10 thought that the security at their child's school had improved over this year. And they were able to list a number of things that were going on - now we're talking about elementary schools: requiring visitors to be checked in; counseling kids that look like they're in trouble. We're talking about, again, very young kids.

A third now have a police officer or armed security. This is at an elementary school. Before this, a smaller share find themselves in elementary schools where people have agreed to do random searches of lockers and occasionally students for that. So in the sort of the latter things, including using metal detectors, which is very infrequent, these show up much greater in high schools.

CHAKRABARTI: Right, so there's more sort of overt security measures that students interact with and see in the older grades.

BLENDON: Yes, and one of the things, I think, if we could have the parents sitting here, is there are lot of discussions at schools today, should we be doing more of this at younger ages or not without being clear. But it's clear people have moved things. We also were able to look at high school students, and the changes were not as great over this year because actually the real changes came in 1999 after the Columbine shootings in Colorado.

And we were lucky that ABC Washington Post had interviewed parents, and some of the - just a couple dramatic, but the most dramatic is in 1999, half of high schools had a police or security guard. It's now 70 percent.

CHAKRABARTI: Seventy percent.

BLENDON: For that. And random searches goes from one in five to one in three today.

CHAKRABARTI: Random searches of students.

BLENDON: Of students. So there is a lot more that is going on in high schools as a response to the shootings and these efforts have left most parents feeling that their kids' schools are relatively safe but not minority parents or low income.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. Well, we're going to get to that in just a second.

BLENDON: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: But there's one thing I want to ask you about something that hasn't really changed since 1999, after Columbine. 'Cause in the study, it's reported that while 76 percent of families feel that their school offers effective counseling and other assistance to troubled students, that number is basically unchanged...

BLENDON: Right.

CHAKRABARTI: ...since 1999. It's high but unchanged.

BLENDON: Right. And I think that one of the reasons is that it was so high and their clearly still is a share of schools that where they don't have the focus on kids at risk, and I think that is what has developed in discussions among parents and teachers, is trying to identify kids that could possibly be at risk of causing harm, and intervening before you have a tragic situation.

CHAKRABARTI: Right. So as you about to mention a little earlier, this sort of across-the-board sense of schools being safe isn't shared by everybody. The numbers are markedly lower amongst African-American respondents and those people at lower income levels.

BLENDON: Absolutely, and that is really important to focus on; that parent security are not the same across every place in the United States, and African-American parents and people in low-income communities don't feel that their schools offer their children the same safety.

CHAKRABARTI: The number is pretty high...

BLENDON: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: ...isn't is? Forty percent of African-American parents say their child's school...

BLENDON: Right.

CHAKRABARTI: ...is somewhat or not safe at all.

BLENDON: And that is a very large number of parents to get up every morning and send their child to a school with that type of anxiety and worry. So the ability to move forward has not touched the way you would've hoped every school in America, and we have not been able to reassure every parent over this year for that, and that's very important. Communities are very different and where things could go better for a lot of parents in African-American communities, they may be very, very worried that their youngsters are not being protected.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, did parents tell you or what did they tell you about where they'd like to see efforts being focused going forward on school safety, if at all?

BLENDON: So, we interviewed parents who said their schools were relatively safe and we compared them to the parents who said they weren't, and we looked at how they rated various things. And the thing that's quite striking, who would've thought, oh, it must be metal detectors or something like that; it really had to do with searching for students who are seen to be at risk. Parents really have come into this that there are troubled kids and if the school can focus on them, we can alter the outcome here.

That's Robert Blendon. He's co-director of the school safety survey that was done by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. He's also a profession of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. Professor Blendon, thank you so very much.

Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: And listeners, you can read a summary of the survey and its findings at our website, hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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