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School Violence

Definition

School violence has become a serious problem in recent decades in many parts of the world. It can be subtle and almost go unnoticed (bullying, verbal abuse, threats), and has in some cases escalated to large scale violent acts such as those witnessed at Columbine or École Polytechnique. In any form, school violence has the power to affect students, parents, teachers, police officers and community members.

Youth violence can be displayed through uttering threats. Threats can come in many forms including verbal (direct or passing comment), written (in form of a note or diary entry) or online (via social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or other chatrooms). Such comments may be seen as just "weird" or "unusual;" however, these violent comments should not be seen as illegitimate or a joke. Some specific examples of threats to school violence include creating or sharing hit-lists, conspiring and planning attacks, or talking extensively about violence, death, and weapons.

Why does it occur?

School violence can happen for a variety of reasons and there is no way to pinpoint one exact factor that leads to school violence. Here are some possible things to look out for that may help you recognize a potentially dangerous situation:

  • The perpetrator(s) may be a victim of violence themselves

Youth who have been bullied, isolated, or have fallen victim to abusive family environments are more likely to be affected in their self esteem and relationships and may feel fear guilt, shame, sadness, and pain. These negative feelings can motivate the individual to lash out, sometimes against their school and peers.

  • The perpetrator(s) may be part of a youth gang or radicalization group

Other youth may participate in youth gangs or radicalization groups, which opens them up to bringing violence associated with their group culture into the school. Radicalization is defined as "the process by which individuals are introduced to an overtly ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from moderate, mainstream beliefs toward extreme views" (RCMP). Youth involved in gangs or radicalization groups often suffer from inequality and social disadvantages (Public Safety Canada—Youth Gangs in Canada).

  • The perpetrator(s) may be committing hate crimes

Hate crimes may be motivated by the perpetrator's hate, bias or prejudice against an identifiable group based on their race, gender, or other similar factors. An example of a hate crime motivated school violence incident includes École Polytechnique in Montreal, where Marc Lépine killed 14 women (CBC).

Impacts of School Violence

The impacts of school violence can extend far beyond the classroom doors. Such events can directly affect the students, their families and friends, school employees, surroundings community members, police officers on the scene, and even those who hear about it through the news.

In the wake of a violent school act, students may develop feelings of fear, anxiety and paranoia and may not want to return to school. Parents may also echo their feelings by not wanting to send their children to school for fear of the incident reoccurring.

As a result, school boards have faced new pressures to improve their school safety policies by working with police departments and community members to develop plans of action and school lockdown procedures. Violent school situations are no joke and can lead to legal implications. Someone committing school violence could be legally responsible under the Criminal Code of Canada through harassment, assault and murder (Criminal Code of Canada).

What You Can Do

Youth

  • Refer to our Bullying and Cyberbullying Factsheet to learn what you can do about bullying in your school;
  • Report threats to a trusted adult such as a teacher or guidance councilor;
  • If you notice any suspicious people in or around your school, let a teacher know.

Police Officer

  • Refer to the RCMP School Action for Emergencies (SAFE) Plan, which can be used for bomb threats, hostage, and/or active shooter situations (RCMP SAFE Plan).

Parent or Guardian

  • Know your child. Having an active role in their life is extremely important. If you begin to notice an inclination to violent behavior, have a conversation with them to figure out what's going on;
  • Be aware of your child's school lockdown and emergency procedures and reinforce the importance of listening to adults and their instructions.

Teacher or Principal

  • Be aware of and familiar with school safety and lockdown procedures in case of an emergency situation;
  • Be involved in scheduled lockdown practice drills, training of students, and the overall safety of the staff and students.