Despite mass shootings continuing to occur throughout the nation, California middle schools and high schools’ steep decline in violence can serve as a sign of hope.
From 2001 to 2019, UCLA scholar Ron Avi Astor surveyed 6 million California students about school safety and experiences of violence at school. When it comes to day-to-day violence at schools, California schools have had a sharp decrease.
The study measured verbal, physical and social victimization, discrimination and bullying, weapon involvement, students feeling safe at school, adult support, participation in school and students’ sense of belonging at school.
During this process, 6,219,166 students from 3,253 schools were interviewed.
All types of victimization and weapon involvement took massive dips during Astor’s research.
In total for victimization, there was a 56% reduction in physical fights, a 25% reduction in making fun of a student’s look and 24.4% reduction in spreading rumors.
As for weapon involvement, reports of guns carried onto campus dropped 70%, reports of carrying other kinds of weapons (knives) dropped 67.8% and reports of students being threatened with a weapon dropped 59%.
Tension among cultural, racial and ethnic groups have also decreased in California schools. While this is a good sign, Astor has admitted that this topic would require its own research to see how this positive outcome came to be and how to maintain it.
Another subject that Astor believes needs its own research is gun violence, a subject that was not covered in-depth in this study.
“These findings were evident in more than 95% of California schools, in every county, and not in wealthy suburban schools only,” Astor said.
In an interview with the LA Times, Astor shared factors that played a role in the decrease of violence were investing into social-economic programs, such as early care and education (ECE), and educating staff on how to create a welcoming environment.
Since the study ended in 2019, Astor is aware and concerned about the mental toll the pandemic has had on students as they return to school.
In the conclusion of the study, Astor said “This potential increase in school violence should be monitored closely. Schools may continue to need more resources to address the increasing burden of COVID-19 mental health issues.”
With the rise of anxiety and depression, schools are now partnering with community organizations, local hospitals and health centers to not only help students but to add more mental health personnel to staff.
As of 2022, 70% of children in the U.S. are receiving mental health support from their schools.
Counselors, social workers and psychologists have played a role in the decreased violence in California schools, and the Department of Education hopes to keep it that way.
California schools are continuing to add these types of personnel, post-pandemic resources for students. For example, California is looking to double the number of counselors in schools and has created grant programs to recruit counselors.
While these programs and the addition of mental health staff have helped the state of California, Astor encourages the country to continue paying attention to other policies and interventions that work.