Over the past eight years, there have been at least 25 eruptions of major school violence in America, leaving more than 150 students and faculty members wounded or dead. But by early 2003, reports of deadly school violence had receded from the daily news. School shootings seemed to be, if not strictly a thing of the past, at least not a thing of the present. But that changed last week, when four teens slipped into the John McDonogh Senior High School gymnasium in New Orleans and opened fire. Jonathan Williams, 15, was killed and four other students were wounded.
Although the 2003 Gallup Youth Survey* was conducted before this most recent school shooting, data collected from the survey still indicate that a sizable percentage of teens are fearful about their safety at school. American teens (aged 13 to 17) were asked: "When you are at school, do you ever fear for your physical safety, or not?" While most teens, 75%, do not say they are fearful, nearly a quarter say they are (24%).
An August 2002 Gallup Poll** also showed that most parents of school-age children do not fear for their children's safety at school. Gallup asked parents, "Thinking about your oldest child, when he or she is at school, do you fear for his or her physical safety?" Less than a third (31%) of parents said yes and 68% said no (see "Parents Concerned About School Safety" in Related Items).
Over the years, Gallup has asked teens on several different occasions whether they fear for their safety at school. From the late 1970s until 1996, fear showed a slow, but steady increase. A 1998 Gallup Youth Survey showed a drop, but an increase again in 1999, shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School in April of that year, in which 15 died and 23 were wounded. In a May 1999 Gallup Youth Survey, 20% of teens said they feared for their safety at school. This percentage was much smaller than the percentage of parents who feared for their children's safety at that time; half of parents said they feared for their children's safety at school, according to a Gallup Poll conducted that same month.
Since Columbine, teen fear at school has receded somewhat, while parents' fear for their children showed a much larger drop.
Despite much publicized school shootings, including Columbine, teens have never been overly concerned about their safety at school. Typically, parents have expressed more concern about their children's safety than the children themselves.
*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 1,200 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 23-Feb. 10, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.
**Results are based on telephone interviews with 283 parents with children in grades K-12, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 5-8, 2002. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6%.