Are Safety Issues Driving Away Your Students?

Decreasing school populations may, in part, be the result of students’ real or perceived fears.

While working with a client school district recently, a cabinet official related how her own child had been attacked by another student and how startling the incident had been to her and her son.  Fortunately, the event also demonstrated an exceptional level of positive school culture because the offender was identified by students who had heard about the event and became upset that a student would attack a classmate without provocation.  

As it turns out, the victim and witnesses had not been aware of the offender prior to the incident because he had only attended school for a few days and came to school to attack a randomly selected target as part of a gang initiation.  

This fact turned our discussion to at risk youth, the drop out rate and the challenges the district faces serving a student population in a community with ever more severe gang activity. Like a number of large urban districts, this one is losing about 1,000 students each year to charter schools and to other communities. This is a massive number of students for the size of even this large district. 

Our discussion began to center around the reasons the district is losing students. The presumption had been that the primary reason was the loss of residents to smaller suburban communities with lower violent crime rates.  

But are districts in this situation evaluating the actual reasons for the loss of students? If a district is losing students because of incidents or fear of incidents, the district might need to improve security as part of a strategic approach to addressing this problem.

I once worked with a small rural district that lost more than 20 percent of its student population over a three year period. The superintendent was terminated by the board, and a new superintendent immediately began to find ways to survey students that had left the district. They learned that bullying at one of their three schools was the primary reason cited for choosing other schools. Knowing this, the superintendent set his district on a course of corrective action and began to grow his previously shrinking district’s student population.

If your district or institution of higher learning is losing students, it might be wise to try to learn if real or perceived safety issues are a factor.

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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at [email protected]. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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